Informant: The informant in question is a half-Jewish, half-Italian boy from Rockville Centre, New York. He currently is twenty years old and studying screenwriting at USC.
So I guess I’m what you would call ethnically Jewish. Judaism is as much a race as it is a religion. But my grandfather’s parents were socialists in Russia and they were chased out by the pogroms and they weren’t religious, so he was never bar mitzvahed but he wanted us to know that it was important that we were ethnically Jewish. Umm, so we always did seders. So we could cut them down so we could eat sooner. But we could do the seders and the great thing-
What are seders?
Seders are like the prayers before meals, like Passover has a seder and there are specific rituals connected to them and we all tell stories. And part of the reason I think a lot of Jews wind up in the entertainment industry is that we’re brought up telling stories. You have to read the seder stories and it goes from youngest to oldest so from a young age, you have to read the stories. And I remember I was at my uncle’s house and I couldn’t have been more than nine and eventually the other kids just gave up reading and they let me read the whole seder and I told the story of the locust and I did different voices for all of the characters and I was improvising – I mean, I was changing the Bible, which is probably cruel. But uh, I remember that I had the table rip-roaring at Seder and I was thinking “this is such a great thing” and my family was always totally up for that. And once you set the tone all the adults were up for that and they wanted to top your performance and it was always such a fun thing. Jewish holidays in particular can get really sad because they all deal with the struggle and everything that our people has always gone through but my family had a way of making it about being happy that everyone was together. And I think that’s the moral of religion as a whole: be happy with what you have and the gifts that you’ve been given. If you’re sitting at those tables with your family and everyone’s laughing and you’ve got good food and everyone’s laughing, you might as well be happy, whether you believe in God or not. Those were the best times. When your family is just really happy to all be together.
This particular ritual serves both as a family bonding ritual and an expression of religious faith. In most cases, the Seders serve as a reminder of the individual’s context within Judaism as a whole and a reminder of the struggles that have plagued members of that faith for eons. However, the speaker makes a clear definition of Judaism not only as a set of religious beliefs but as a cultural heritage, passed on regardless of the individual’s personal religious leanings.
The variation of this practice is also shown. While certain aspects of the seders (the telling of stories, the progression from youngest to oldest, the occasion of Passover) remain constant, other aspects can be changed, such as how in the given account, the single storyteller took over for his siblings and for the other children present or how direct quotes from religious scripture are paraphrased for comedic effect or how the overall message of the seders changes from that of recognition of past suffering to thankfulness for current happiness.