The first two nights (one night in Israel) are spent by families and friends at the SEDER table. It is a night of story-retelling of the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, led by Moses. For this reason it is called the festival of freedom.
It is also a night of feasting with traditional foods such as "gefillte fish" (varying in taste from verysweet, to medium sweet, to non-sweet with salt and pepper,- depending upon the originating family traditions)followed by chicken soup with matzo-balls (dumplings), then various meat and chicken dishes, with tzimmes (honeyed carrots and raisins), potato pancakes(latkes or kugel), or matza pancakes.
After the meal the story-telling continues, finishing of with raucuous singing.
All this providing the gathering is led by a well-versed older member of the family who can keep control over the children. It can take until midnight, the whole process!
For adults-only gatherings, a shortened version is offered below to offset the inevitable boredom which sets in for the older generation who have weathered the stories over many years. As one 70 year old who is not conversant with Hebrew said upon hearing this abbreviated fun-Haggada,- "it's the first time that I understood what the Seder is all about!"
The Two-Minute Haggadah
A Passover service for the impatient.
By Michael Rubiner
Thanks, God, for creating wine. (Drink wine.)
Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)
Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we're free. That's why we're doing this.
1. What's up with the matzoh?
2. What's the deal with horseradish?
3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?
4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?
1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.
2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.
3. It's called symbolism.
4. Free people get to slouch.
A funny story: Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning. (Heat soup now.)
The four kinds of children and how to deal with them:
Wise child—explain Passover.
Simple child—explain Passover slowly.
Silent child—explain Passover loudly.
Wicked child—browbeat in front of the relatives.
Speaking of children: We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.
The story of Passover: It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.
The 10 Plagues: Blood, Frogs, Lice—you name it.
The singing of "Dayenu":
If God had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red Sea, it would've been enough.
If he'd parted the Red Sea—(Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.)
Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch.
Thanks again, God, for everything.
Michael Rubiner writes for movies and television. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone.
Photogaph of matzoh on the Slate home page by Menahem Kahana/AFP Photo.