Saturday, April 23, 2016

Seder 2016

Seder 2016

I joined the Potkin brothers for Seder on Friday, the Jewish Passover celebration, which commemorates the escape from tyranny to freedom, both thousands of years ago, as narrated in the Book of Exodus, and in a more eternal sense, every day. 

The ritual has many parts to it, involving especially prepared foods and wine.  Alan presided, in addition to having done a lot of the prep.  I'd been to Seders before, but not many.

Since Alan and his wife have both devoted their careers to curating, often digitally, a lot of Buddhist culture, especially in Southeast Asia (they lived in Laos for many years), why not turn these same skills towards restoring and sharing some aspects of Jewish culture as well?

Illustrated storytelling is at the heart of such anthropology.  Alan had some material ready for sharing on his computer, hooked to an HDTV.

Alan gave the backstory as to how he came to take his Jewish heritage more seriously, thanks to his appointment with destiny in Vietnam.

He'd been drafted out of Bard College, an intellectual Brooklyn Jew who had soured on his own Jewishness, owing to oppressive aspects of his childhood and young adulthood.

As an infantryman in the Army, he got into a firefight, with grenades and all the rest of it.  The shrapnel in his jugular, which no one knew for sure was there, but some suspected, took many hours to to fully express its presence.

His case kept moving to the bottom of the triage list as he spent the day getting shunted from facility to facility in search of a working X-ray machine.  When he finally started losing blood in earnest, he was fortunately in a place that could do something about it and his life was saved.

That's when Alan met Morton Singer, an Army chaplain looking after his fellow Jews, rather few and far between among the enlisted.

Even though Alan had "no preference" on his dog tag, Singer recognized a fellow New York Jew.  He and Alan had some serious soul-searching conversations, and to the delight of Alan's parents, Alan returned to the fold.

As it turned out, Morton's young family lived only block's away from Alan's parents.  Small world.

Later, Alan learned that his new mentor and friend had been killed in a plane crash, owing to a neglectful refueler putting in the wrong type of fuel.  The C-123 pancaked at the end of the runway, killing at least half aboard, including Captain Singer.

Alan's telling contained many more details than shared above, and Jonathan worried Alan might be going overboard with the war story.  What worked to everyone's advantage was about only half those present were Jewish, so no one really knew what to expect.

At least one other Vietnam War vet was in our party.  He later thanked Alan for sharing his story.  We all applauded the Potkin brothers for hosting this special event.

A grand time was had by all.  Passover is a celebration, not a time for mourning especially.  The invited guests were jovial and a source of interesting conversation.

The fact that the next day was Shakespeare's birthday added to the literary and multi-cultural flavor of the event.

Alan drew an analogy between the Jews and the Laotians, forced as slaves to build a certain grand canal in Bangkok by the conquering "Egyptian" Siamese.  Helping people better appreciate history was a big part of what we were up to I'd say.