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For this we left Egypt?

Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca

For this we left Egypt – The Jewish holiday of Passover is coming up next week, which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, led by Moses (not Charlton Heston), after more than 400 years of being held as slaves there.

One of the main traditions of Passover is the festive meal called the “seder”, in which family and friends gather together to commemorate this exodus from slavery to freedom. As those family members and close friends gather around the seder table, a book called the “haggadah” is used, which is filled with prayers, songs and the complete story of Passover, which is recited aloud by everyone who is seated at the table.

Now if those who gather at a seder decides to literally go by the book, the ritual of recounting the story of Passover page-by-page with the haggadah can be a lengthy process, and can be a long while before the meal even starts. And yet, there are some families who can’t wait that long before they get to the festive meal (and risk having the deliciously cooked food get cold), and cut to the chase, opting to go right to the highlights of the haggadah, such as the four questions, the reciting of the 10 plagues by spilling a cup of wine (in which a spilling represents a plague), reciting the early part of the Passover story and of course, when the children sing the joyous – and catchy – song “Dayenu”.

However, there is a troika of writers who realize this dilemma of the rather lengthy Passover seder and the impatience of family members who endure the annual ordeal of going through the haggadah page by page before the first slice of brisket is served. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave Barry, veteran comedy writer/producer (and former SNL writer) Alan Zweibel and best-selling author Adam Mansbach have joined forces to come up with the perfect humoristic antidote to this Passover ritual with For This We Left Egypt?

The book (which is also printed the way a traditional Passover haggadah is printed in its Hebrew version, from right to left) is a loudly humorous, acerbic parody of the haggadah, as it dissects every aspect of the Passover holiday, from its origins to its traditions and everything in between, from the seder plate (and why is a roasted lamb shank bone part of the plate), to how really tasty a sandwich made of matzah and maror (bitter herbs) is, to why some people are so fanatical to follow the seder rituals by order of appearance, to why so many cups of wine are consumed. As well, the book contains some “deleted scenes” to the Passover story (which helps answer the question why the Jewish people really wandered in the desert for 40 years; hint: “Giants”) and some discussion questions that deal with many of the familiar Passover lore, traditions and rituals (case in point, this questions about the story of the golden calf: “Where the hell did the Israelites get enough gold for a Golden Calf? What tools did they use to make it, considering they left Egypt so fast they couldn’t wait for the bread to rise?”).

The team of Barry, Zweibel and Mansbach (who have probably endured their fair share of lengthy Passover seders in their respective lifetimes) have produced a laugh-out-loud parody in which the reader can easily identify with many of the seder dilemmas that are represented in the book, through the bitingly funny text and the 1950s-style illustrations that are peppered throughout the book (my favorite one is of the rather dictatorial individual who insists on strictly following the seder rituals in its traditional order of appearance, much to the fear of those sitting around him at the table). In fact, one fun challenge that seder-goers can do with this book is to bring a multiple number of copies, and quietly replace the genuine haggadahs with For This We Left Egypt?, and see if anyone would notice the difference.

All in all, a new Passover tradition can be established with For This We Left Egypt? So instead of singing some traditional holiday songs before or after the festive meal, families can recite passages from this book and get a full comic Passover experience. Then again, they can use this book as a haggadah substitute, which can easily fast track them to the brisket with little or no waiting (which can indeed make it a happy Passover for all involved).

For This We Left Egypt? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach (Flatiron Books, $27.99)

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