This past Saturday, we celebrated our Ninth Annual "Cohen Family Seder." This is yet another example of my psychosis, having decided nine years ago to host a seder on the Saturday night of Passover week and invite "all who are hungry to come and eat." The first two years were small events, in our condo in Sherman Oaks, with the makeshift tables stretching from the tiny dining room past the front door over to the fireplace on the other side of the living room. After our move to Valencia, our numbers have grown (and shrank and grown again) and as always, the guest list is varied and includes our Jewish and non-Jewish friends and family. Our family has grown with at least 4 little ones having been born over the past few years (and I think someone was even pregnant at our very first gathering.) This year, we were 30 strong. One friend was contemplating bringing a significant other and I told her that he might have to sit on her lap. She thought I was joking. We moved out the couches and chair and coffee table and rolled in rented tables and chairs and we all got very close.
Over the years, we have gone through several different Haggadahs (the books that tell the Passover story) with each being tossed aside (figuratively speaking) in the search for something different, something better, something "more." Rob's dad Ray led our little band of misfits over the first 7 years and we could never find a book that fit our group quite right. Last year things got mixed up a bit, with Aunt Eunice handing the reins of her Seder (our family's First night celebration) over to Ronnye and Ray. Since Ray was leading that seder, he told Rob that it was up to him to lead his own. (After all, it is our house, right?) Rob decided to go out on a limb and venture far away from the books that we had used in the past, and instead wrote his own tale, a Passover play, if you will. His surprise ending didn't carry quite the punch we had hoped, when the actor failed to deliver her line and another guest stepped all over it and delivered it for her, without quite realizing what he was saying. (We chose to announce to our family and friends the impending arrival of Kensi by having his Mom deliver the parting line of "next year with another Cohen" after the traditional "next year in Jerusalem." She was unable to speak her line, having read ahead and gotten a bit choked up at the news.)
Regardless, we strive each year to make things more interesting. Not having another birth announcement to keep things going this year, we had to look for something else to do. I came up with an interesting challenge for our guests. The story of Passover tells of the Jewish people's flight from Egypt following G-d's deliverance of the plagues and the Pharoah's order for the people to leave. Our people left in a hurry, without time to let the bread to rise. The Seder describes the plagues and explains the symbolism in what we eat, why we eat it and even how we are supposed to eat it (reclining to the left.) But the Seder doesn't discuss what came after. After Moses led the people out of Egypt and after they crossed the Red Sea, the people wandered in the desert for 40 years. G-d provided food (manna) and water when it was needed, but what else did the people want or need that they did without for 40 years? And knowing that they were to be ready to leave at a moment's notice, what did they take with them?
I issued this challenge to our guests, to consider what they would have done, if placed in a similar situation and told to wander the desert for 40 years. What would they bring with them, and why? I provided some guidance, that at least 1 or 2 of the items should be "necessary" such as toothpaste, and asked what sentimental items they might bring. The results were predictable as far as the "necessaries" were concerned, but much more interesting when you consider the sentimental side of things. It became readily apparent as the discussion moved around the tables from guest to guest, that we were separating into groups based upon our age. These groups were not born out of what we wanted to bring or could not leave behind, but were based on the technology relied on to achieve those goals.
The discussion started with people telling us what they brought - chapsticks, toothpaste, granola bars, etc. Rob and I then tried to move the discussion away from the necessities and more toward the sentimental, things that they could not live without. To provide a real life example, I used myself and explained that I could not go anywhere without my pictures of my girls and my family. (Anyone who knows me knows that I am somewhat defined by my picture taking and scrapbooking.) I mentioned bringing my laptop with all of those pictures. (Of course, Ray immediately went to the practical question - how and where would I plug it in, but that's beside the point.) From there, the discussion got rolling with more and more guests opting to bring photos or albums. Then we got to the kids. As I mentioned, a line formed by age and it seemed that the younger members of our group quickly went the route of technology, opting to bring their iPhones or iPods, in order to have their collections of music and games close at hand. One young guest (age 13) wanted her phone so that she could text and stay in contact with her friends. I apparently fell on the "older" side of the group, having forgotten that so much information can now be carried on something just a few inches square, thinking instead of my laptop which apparently has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
I'm not sure that the object of the lesson was completely grasped (after all, who would provide the cell service or internet connection in the desert?) but the thought process was certainly amusing. These days, we are surrounded by technology which allows us to keep in constant contact. I'm not sure anyone "checked in" on Facebook as being at my house Saturday night, but the option is certainly there. We can instantly tell where our friends are and who they are with. Celebrities "tweet" their locations and watch as waves of paparazzi follow them around. We call and text at the touch of a button, we email and surf the net to stay on top of world affairs. But when it all goes away, what are you left with? If cell service is gone and the internet is no more, what would you have? Our children think in terms of this technology, wanting to maintain a connection to their friends and their music. We adults tend to think in terms of our history, wanting to maintain a connection to our past, holding on to our memories in photos and albums. Are they right? Are we wrong? Or is there a middle ground? As I type this, I am certain that if cell service dropped completely today, most of the teens in our world right now would not be able to figure out how to pick up a land line phone and call a friend, let alone figure out how to walk to a friend's house without the aid of Google Maps on their smart phones. For now, I am in limbo, since B is too young to have a cell phone and would rather sit with me and look at my albums and pictures. For now. But the time is coming, I am sure, when I will have to enter the battle of the past, and history, versus the future and technology. I hope that there can be a happy medium or a middle ground, that we can achieve amazing things with technology but still keep that connection to our past.
In the meantime, I can be found in my office, trying to get a handle on the thousands and thousands of pictures I've taken over the years and trying to keep up with all of the new ones I'm still taking. Feel free to stop by for a trip down my memory lane if you'd like. And bring your own chapstick.