Culture, Religion

What, no one showed you the chocolate seder plate?

I’m a progressive yid, so I’m mostly a fan of Jon Stewart. Mostly. I’m certain that his and Colbert’s rallies in 2010 deprived close east congressional and state level races countless volunteers (I lost 10 volunteers, half of them for the weekend, to attend it) that could’ve helped turn out voters to make the difference in state legislatures that have gone to the crazyville he so ably lampoons. But I enjoy him, a lot, and I have from the time he was cracking wise on MTV’s Remote Control. His legendary takedown of Crossfire I have watched dozens of times. And it’s fun to have such an on point and hilarious member of the tribe go at the insanity that is the news of the day.
Sometimes even our favorite folks swing and miss, and Stewart did big time with “faith/off” his coverage of the convergence of the beginning of Passover and the end of Holy Week on the Daily Show. Stewart compares the White House staff and family seder with the Easter Egg Roll, and then easter candy with a seder plate, making the point that his “people are getting their asses kicked” by the Christians in getting the children interested in their religion.
Couple problems with this: one, he compared ritual objects and religious observances to secular aspects of the holiday. I have some friends who are extremely active Catholics and I feel confident that they would not equate easter chocolates with the religious significance of the seder plate. Or a seder with a cartoon character filled easter egg roll. If he wanted to seriously examine and compare, he could’ve compared the seder to, for example, the Easter Vigil service. In the Catholic church, it’s a service with numerous readings, a sermon or two, and a service where many major life cycle events or sacriments (conversion, baptism, confirmation, wedding) take place. The Vigal has the potential to be really important, meaningful, or boring if you’re not prepared for it. I was fascinated by it, having attended one two years ago to see my friends get married. The theology was interesting, and I was of course excited to see my friends get married. But there was also a lot of stuff that wasn’t quite for me.
This brings me to the second, larger problem with Stewart’s piece- he either doesn’t know what a good, interesting, fun, challenging seder is, or doesn’t care (or maybe this piece was satire of the Jewish community’s “what’s the next zany thing we can do to keep young jews here?” in which case I like it somewhat better). Seders are participatory- if they suck, honestly, it’s on the particpants of the seder. A couple million Jews and their friends have seders across the world and many of them DON’T SUCK, but in fact are interesting, fun, thought provoking, joyous, and challenging.
You don’t need cartoon characters to make a seder fun, even for kids. You don’t need candy eggs. You just need to make it interesting and important to yourself and those you have the seder with, and you’ll have kids interesting in doing the seder again each year. If your seder is your kids reading the four questions in the sing song melody most of us have heard, plowing through the maxwell house with as little discussion as possible, and bitching about the horseradish, well, yeah, of course your kids are going to think the easter egg roll is more fun. But a story of your people’s redemption, of your redemption! With a guy who can’t speak overcoming his own impediments to free his people! And rivers that turn to blood! I mean, this story doesn’t get old, and as friends at Rabbis for Human Rights North America reminded us this year, there’s still plenty of slavery we need to end. There’s thousands of years of commentary, dozens of songs, ice breakers, skits, traditions from Jewish communities across world to add to your own seder, or you can do what hundreds of folks do all over and write your own hagadah if the hundreds that have been made don’t appeal to you.
Any religion that is meaningful is not about passive participation. Nor is it about consumerism. If you want the stuff to really matter, bitch less about how we need to spice it up and delve more into all the ways that already exist to make your seder interesting enough to actually last through the morning shma.
If that doesn’t work, Jon, you could always get the kids their own solid chocolate seder plate. At least that should keep them up.
nb: props to Rokhl from Rootless Cosmopolitan, it was her posting of the piece on fb and her own anger that made me watch the thing and realize how frustrating it is.

11 thoughts on “What, no one showed you the chocolate seder plate?

  1. Jon Stewart may be my TV boyfriend, but I’m thisclose to TV dumping his ass. On the other hand, that pizza sounds pretty good right about now.

  2. Maybe Jon Stewart grew up with sucky seders. Maybe he doesn’t know better.
    But yeah, being intermarried and living close to my husband’s family, who really do it up for the holidays, I think I know a thing or two about this subject, and I think Passover has no trouble competing with Easter.

  3. I don’t think people get Stewart’s Jewish humor. It’s a schtick… It is a long long tradition of self-deprecating humor that has been the foundation of Jewish comedians in the US since Groucho Marx said “I don’t want to be in a club that would accept people like me as a member.” It paved the way for the three stooges and then the stand up stylings of the borscht belt, which paved the way for mel brooks, woody allen and lenny bruce, which paved the way for billy crystal and andy kaufman, which paved the way for adam sandler, sarah silverman, jerry seinfeld and the list goes on. stewart is just one in a long line of a rich tradition of Jewish humor. Don’t take his words so seriously!

  4. Justin,
    I definitely see your point and it’s a fair one to make. Look at Woody Allen. He created a whole career playing a helpless nebekh. That character, though, is the creation of a very sophisticated man who has shown himself to be a master manipulator of women. Woody Allen, the artist, is nobody’s fool.
    But what feels different in the case of Jon Stewart is that the deprecation is not aimed at himself but at Judaism. Even in his casual conversations with Jewish guests he seems to pride himself on his ignorance of anything Jewish outside a very specific New York-ish cultural style. There’s a pattern here and it’s not just in his scripted bits.
    But who knows. We’ll have to get the scoop from someone who was at his seder.

  5. I’ve always interpreted his pride in ignorance AS his self-deprecation. I was personally splitting at the side during his bit on easter and passover.

  6. I’m gonna go with Justin on this one. While certainly I agree that there are boring and riveting seders (I’m told I just hosted a good one myself, with an Indian-inflected theme, in a nod to my girlfriend), I think that’s the conversation Stewart WANTED us to have. 🙂 I think he’s smart enough never to straight-out lambaste Judaism for being dull; otherwise, he would have left the religion a long time ago. There’s no reason for him to announce his affiliation publicly unless his mild jabs are out of love.
    If I had to take a guess, I would say that, exactly as you alluded to in your piece, Ruby (which I enjoyed), I think he’s satirizing the insecurity we sometimes feel when our holiday is “stacked up” against those of our Christian neighbors. I like this:
    It’s a article dissecting the reasons Jews do comedy, and I think this fits into the “No thanks, we’re good” category – a subtle message to our fellow Jews and our Christian neighbors that, while they may have gone gaga for consumerism, that’s not really what our spring holiday is about. 🙂

  7. The thing is pretty clearly a joke- but I also think it’s pretty clear that, at some level, he believes it.

  8. (I’m told I just hosted a good one myself, with an Indian-inflected theme, in a nod to my girlfriend)
    On the one hand, I can see that you really love your girlfriend but, on the other hand, have you checked with her as to whether she’s ok with you constantly mentioning her in this forum?
    (I’m just trying to do my small part to buttress the institution of marriage.)

  9. I actually think the target of that segment was the comodification of easter. What he did was produce passover stuff that paralleled the schlock of easter bunnies and eggs. And didn’t it looks silly? The chocolate seder is as stupid as the easter bunny, and that was his point.

  10. And who says there’s no place for cartoon characters at the Seder? I’ve led Seders with a Lamb Chop hand puppet.

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