My first real passover ended with disaster.
I was eight years old, and we dined with my dad's colleagues - Orthodox Jews, who probably hoped to instill some piety in me and my younger sister, since we were (and are) misfortunite product of a barely-practicing Jewish mother and her mixed-marriage (a Quaker!) husband.
The Rosenbergs* had about half a dozen children; the oldest a smattering of twelve and thirteen-year-old girls, with exotic hyphenated names: Ruchel-Ester, Chava-Leah. To my pre-teen self they seemed comically tall and omnipotent; and, in accordance with the Jewish tradition that women fully join the Jewish faith after their Bat Mitzvah at age 12, this was their first seder drinking wine along with the adults.
Most Jewish traditions involve food and wine, but none as elaborately as the Passover seder. Beyond the basic food-based premise for the holiday - Jews abstain from leavening for a week to acknowledge the hasty flee, and quickly baked bread, that our ancestors endured during their escape from slavery in Egypt - almost everything on the Passover table evokes tradition: charoset, an apple chutney, represents the mortar used to build the pyramids; horseradish is symbolic of the pain of slavery; and salt water is a reminder of the tears shed during Exodus (Jewish mothers don't pull their guilt-trips out of thin air, there's a centuries' long tradition behind it...).
And here comes the big one - during the seder meal, during the hours and hours of prayer and story-telling, everyone must drink four glasses of wine, which symbolize various exodus-related things, two before the meal and two after.
One more time here, so it sinks in: before eating anything, Passover celebrants are required to drink two glasses of wine. (Sonoma should adopt this holiday city-wide; can you think of a more fitting municipal tradition?)
So, you can probably guess the rest. The girls, drunk with excitement and booze - having downed their first two glasses of wine in close succession, on an empty stomach - retreated under the table with a case of the giggles.
Their mother, exhausted from hours of cooking a meal which would make the average American Thanksgiving look like take-out, collapsed into an impromptu cat-nap on the seder plate. We helped to clear the dishes, and excused ourselves.
Once we'd retreated to the safety of our '84 Toyota Celica my dad came clean. "Those girls were tipsy," he relayed to my mom.
It was the best dinner ever.
When I moved to California, I was surprised to find out how little my friends and colleagues knew about Judiasm. It's the first right of a young goyim (non-Jew in Yiddish) growing up in Scarsdale or Washington D.C. to jump on the Bar Mitzvah circuit, but in northern California, the experience is not as common.
I began hosting seders every year, gathering my friends around the tiny kitchen table of my San Francisco apartment for dinners that lasted for hours. The happy (and tipsy) descent into songs, the chanting, the tradition -it's an experience I recommend to everyone, Jewish or not.
Congregation Shir Shalom runs their annual seder on Tuesday night, but the cutoff for reservations was April 15.
At the risk of angering my roommates, I'd like to invite any Patch readers to my personal seder. It's only fitting. Every seder begins by reciting Kol Dichfin:
Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year we are here; next year in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.
Next year, in Israel!
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Passover begins at sundown tonight and lasts for the next week.