Last night, I attended my second Passover Seder. It took seven hours. It was the longest dinner party I’ve ever been to. I arrived at 8 PM and left at 3 AM. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about how warm and inviting my bed looks….
This Seder was hosted by my Minyan friend who is also the Vice President of Ritual at the synagogue I’ve been attending. It had a very different vibe than the Seder I attended two nights ago.
My first Seder was multi-generational: there were kids, young adults like myself, middle aged professionals, and grandparents. My synagogue friend’s Seder was composed of six, nearly retired or retired people and myself.
Despite the difference in demographic diversity between the two Seders, the rituals were nearly identical. And, like my first Seder, everyone enjoyed themselves, though (slightly less so at 2 AM then at 9 PM).
The main difference was the conversation. We definitely spent a lot more time discussing and complaining about the state of the DC area’s transportation systems. The guests had surprisingly strong feelings about the topic.
I wonder if Moses, when wandering in the desert for 40 years, spent many dinner conversations arguing about the lack of a direct route to the promised land….
Overall, it was a wonderful Seder, but still longer than I would have preferred.
Breadth and Depth
The two Seders I attended brought together an interesting mix of people. Some were long time friends of the hosts, some were friends of friends, and a few were just people interested in learning more about Judaism (me).
This added another element to my reflections on why some groups of people have strong communities while others have weaker ones.
One factor that may be important is that strong communities offer its members the opportunity to develop a wide range of relationships of various depths with other members of the community.
Judaism is a religion with a rich history and philosophy that touches on every aspect of the human experience. If a family member dies, there are rituals and comforting stories to help deal with the loss. If a baby is born, there is a process for integrating the child into the Jewish community. If someone is in financial trouble, Judaism offers clear reasons to help and the synagogue most likely provides a means of doing that.
Because Judaism has something for everyone, its members can form relationships over any number of things. It has both breadth and depth.
Contrast that with my running club. While I like the club and its members, we only bond over our shared interest in running. We may occasionally talk about other things during our runs, but the relationships never get too far beyond the subject of running. I wouldn’t go to the running club if a family member passed away or if I have a baby. The community doesn’t offer breadth or depth of relationships.
Or, think about the relationship between a husband and wife. They will certainly develop a deep relationship, as they are sharing their lives together. However, the relationship doesn’t include others outside of the couple. Marriage is a two-person community. It is deep, but by definition, exclusive.
Judaism offers both breadth and depth to its members. It facilitates all sorts of relationships between people, ranging from the romantic to the charitable to the professional. It is multi-dimensional and comprehensive.