So your significant other invites you to partake in a Seder with his family. You are not Jewish and are wondering: what is this Passover thing, and how do I not look like a complete idiot during this dinner?
First of all, get hold of an advance copy of the Haggadah, which for want of a better definition, is the Seder user manual. Do not ask why it starts with page 44 and ends on page 1. This is not the Curious Book of Benjamin Button, but is instead, read from the back cover to the first page. Go through this booklet, cover to cover, and write down all the words you can’t pronounce. Google them and learn their pronunciations. Also, practice dry hocking from your throat. This will help you pronounce words with “ch” in them.
To get into the spirit of things, go ahead and wear a yarmulke. There will probably be a selection of them that the host has swiped from past bar mitzvahs. Don’t choose the white satin one, or you will look like the pope. Also, it helps if you’re bald, because the yarmulke will stick to your head from all the nervous sweat you are emitting from your scalp.
Once you sit down to dinner, you will notice maybe that an exterior door is open and there is an extra place setting at the table. This is for the prophet Elijah. He is an invisible being who brings good fortune. He also is present at all circumcisions of Jewish boys, so don’t sit next to him. Those hands have been near millions of penises.
Yes, you will be called upon to read from the Haggadah. Make sure you brought your reading glasses, lest you get stuck with borrowing Aunt Yetta’s cat’s-eye trifocals. You didn’t come here to look like Dame Edna. Or the pope. And don’t mumble. Speak up. And don’t read the English words from right to left, you idiot. That’s for reading Hebrew, which are the hieroglyphics that the well-studied children at the table can read.
Note that this is not the average dinnertime pigfest that you are used to. This is a ritual. It will be a while before you get a crack at that pot roast you are smelling, which, in fact, is not a pot roast, but is called a brisket. You won’t get to eat anything substantial for quite a while, so hopefully you had yourself a little nosh before you got there. There are other foods that you might find scary or are unfamiliar with.
Don’t reach for those gigantic unsalted saltines in the middle of the table until you’re told to do so. That is matzo, and if you were smart, at the same time you got your Haggadah, you also brought home a couple of those copier paper boxes from work and chewed on them until you learned to like the taste. Even after all these years, you didn’t know that paper cases are actually made of matzo, did you? Matzo is a very versatile food. Even that mysterious looking cue ball in your soup is matzo. In many parts of the world, Matzo is used as pavement and is more durable than asphalt.
But the most frightening of foods put in front of you will be the gefilte fish. You are probably only used to fish that is white or pink but never beige. So be warned: gefilte is nothing special to look at. It’s not a perfect square of deep-fried seafood-like product you get at McDonalds, nor does it look like a lovely pink salmon filet you might get at a non-fast-food restaurant that serves edible food. Gefilte is something even the handsome, yellow-slickered Morton’s Fisherman refuses to acknowledge. To be honest, if you’re not lucky enough to be served homemade gefilte fish, it looks like a slimy little turd. It looks as if someone got a wad of filthy Play-Doh, rubbed it between their hands to form a narrow, tapered khaki wad and then blew their nose on it. Homemade gefilte fish looks much more attractive and is in fact actually edible. The stuff that comes packed in slimy gelatin from a jar is not. Nevertheless, so you do not embarrass the partner who dragged you to this affair, you must eat it. All of it. Hopefully you will be offered a bowl of horseradish to put on it. Take as much horseradish as you can get away with and ice that fish-turd like a cake, top to bottom, side to side. Turds are much more attractive when they are bright pink, so take a big bite and get it down your throat as fast as you can. Doing this will also help you prepare to be a contestant on Survivor. After this, you will be able to eat millipedes, larvae, and mammal eyeballs.
There will be songs sung that you don’t know the words to. You need not do a Muppet-style lip-sync, as no one expects you to be that culturally astute. Besides, you did not come here to look like Elmo, Dame Edna or the pope. Just smile and look pretty.
After the soup and main course is served, you’ll be offered a variety of unleavened desserts. Don’t call the mandel bread biscotti, and enjoy the fresh macaroons. You deserve them.
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