Tuesday, April 3 2007
Why is this day not like any other? Actually, it was a little like yesterday in that again Gretchen and I went to a Passover seder, though Mary Purdy had returned to the City and was not with us. Lacking other options, we went to the seder being held by the Woodstock synagogue at their new facility, a large modern building in the middle of what appears to be a recent clearcut. The congregation is very lefty and hippie and there is an intention one day to "green up" the facility. As a start, all the plates and cups used today were biodegradable, even the ones that looked like they'd been made from clear plastic.
One of the senses forming a component of my first impression upon walking into the building gave a negative hue to everything I saw and heard. That's how it is with the sense of smell. In some small way the place smelled like a sewage treatment plant, and I don't mean that in good way. I soon discovered the source of this odor. On every table in the room (and there were at least twenty) was a bowl of peeled boiled eggs. Lots of people seem to like eating these things, but most are willing to admit that they do not smell good. I don't know if it's that they have a high sulfur content or if boiling causes a nasty chemical reaction, but boiled eggs have one of the most disgusting odors of anything Americans routinely put in their mouths. I had great difficulty finding any pleasure in the first half hour or so of the seder because of that fragrance. Deliberately breathing through one's mouth seems to take the joy out of living in a way that's hard to describe. I gradually weaned myself from mouth-breathing by mouth-inhaling fragrances from a crushed piece of seder parsley, which, when exhaled through the nose, retained some measure of the parsley essence. It was only after everyone had poured glasses of wine that the room took on a different olfactory character and I was able to have a reasonably-good time.
During last night's seder in Lake Hill, the Haggadah had been a custom English-only printout with a story slightly (though not heavy-handedly) tweaked to appeal to progressives. But Gretchen had been disappointed by its rushed reading and the absence of singing. For her, Jewish rituals are all about the music, preferably sung in Hebrew. Tonight's seder compensated for these deficiencies, although occasionally things went off on unnecessary patchouli-scented tangents, like during the performance of a dreadful English-language song called "Web of Women," celebrating how the hippie midwives of Egypt had refused to kill Jewish newborns. And of course someone had trucked in a number of drummers from New Paltz's West African drummer scene. You can't have any sort of hippie celebration without those guys (though I think they're mostly Muslims).
Woodstock's synagogue keeps kosher by being exclusively lacto-ovo, so the dinner tonight was vegetarian lasagna containing cheese and eggplant. There's nothing like 20 trays of industrial-strength lasagna to scatter the lingering odor of boiled eggs.
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