Recently, my family and I watched Fiddler on the Roof, the story of Tevye, a Russian Jew struggling to uphold tradition in the face of persecution, modernity, and his daughters’ questionable taste in men. Each daughter steps further from tradition–until one ends up in Siberia, and another with a newfangled sewing machine. It’s a lot of change for a humble milkman. (Imagine if he could see his big musical number covered by Gwen Stefani and her prancing Harajuku girls.)
As we celebrated Passover this week, I thought of Tevye, and this gradual yielding of tradition. In my grandparents’ time, the seder was (at least partly) conducted in Hebrew, and children were exiled to a separate table, as old men davened and women scurried about serving traditional fare. At the seders I remember, the food followed the same cherished recipes, but few people spoke Hebrew and the davening was replaced by giddy laughter and discussions of the Passover story, with its strange songs and antiquated language (what exactly is “murrain,” anyway?).
Today, as my generation begins hosting these festivities, I notice even more changes. New dishes creep onto the table, quietly taking their place beside the matzo ball soup and brisket. And there are new children at the table–children who celebrate both Passover and Easter, observing these holidays in a hazy, removed fashion, as their parents struggle with their own conflicts between tradition and modernity. I wonder what the seder will look when they are the ones hosting it. Will the gefilte fish and eggs be replaced by kale and tofu? Will my grandchildren search for the matzo, as I once did, competing valiantly for pride and a dollar? Will there even be a seder? The same questions apply to their Catholic faith: when my daughter is grown, will she attend church on Easter, like her grandmother before her–or will bread and wine simply fade away, along with the other traditions slowly slipping from our grasp?
Sitting at the seder table, I know things won’t stay the same forever. I suppose that as long as the traditions of the future involve the family gathering together and breaking bread (or matzo, or kale), then I will be happy. I do hope, however, that my daughter will avoid running off to Siberia. There’s no reason we can’t start new traditions in Miami, where sand and sun make anything easier to accept.