The Downtown Seder

By | Tagged: holidays

Last night was a culmination of good fortune, good luck, and — as always — my wife running late. The good fortune came in the shape of a dinner invite on the night after we finished cleaning our kitchen for Passover. The good luck was our good friends Miriam and Alan from the band Stereo Sinai inviting us to the Downtown Seder. And the running late … well, we just won’t go there.

The Downtown Seder is a creation of Michael Dorf, half postmodern religious ritual and half cabaret. Rock stars and stand-up comedians and various random famous people are each assigned one step of the seder. And then it’s you in a room with bands like Stereo Sinai, comedians like Rachel Feinstein (who was on Last Comic Standing with our boy Myq Kaplan), half-band-half-comedians like Good for the Jews, and Dr. Ruth. Yes, I said Dr. Ruth.


(Yes, she’s that short pink dot in the picture. We weren’t sitting that far, but she is short, 4’7″. My Holocaust-survivor grandfather who’s 4’11” looks down at her.*)

And she read the Four Questions, too. Granted, she was not the youngest one in the room (she’ll be 83 years old on June 4) but she did it, and she did it up. Backed on a bluegrass guitar by C Lanzbom, she sang the first question solo, and then instructed the audience to accompany her. “If you sing with me,” she said in that undeniably adorable German accent, “I promise that you will have good sex for all the days of your life.” And if we don’t? “Remember,” she told us, “I used to be a sniper in the Haganah.”

Did I sing? You’d better believe I sang.

A few of the guests were esoteric. Others were total crowd-pleasers. Here’s Stereo Sinai, courtesy of my cheapo camera-phone:

Their take on the Son Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask a Question was one of only two all-out dance numbers (the other being, of course, Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Choir) — but each act was so well-thought-out and cool and unusual that I kept wanting to call someone and let them listen. I’m not a bootleggy type of person, but I wish I had a bootleg of last night. I kept wanting to write things down. I kept wanting to remember them. Joshua Foer* summed it up: “Our tradition demands not just that we eat matzah, but that we interact with it and explain it.” Or, to paraphrase Faulkner: Not only is the past not dead, it isn’t even past.

Posted on April 12, 2011

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