We – Amy Cook

I am most aligned with my family’s absurdity when we are hosting company.

Our Passovers are sparsely populated with spectators: someone’s college roommate, a girl I was in love with once, my in-laws, Howard’s assistant, the federal judge we call “Uncle Steve.” We are commanded by our religion to invite those who are outside in, and so we do, but it is not without shame. The performative aspect of our unique rituals forces our intimacy onto center stage.

“And why do we have an orange on the seder plate?” my aunt prods us, like schoolchildren. Everyone knows the answer to this, but the question is always met with silence. We (nine cousins and several goyishe spouses) glance around and make her wait. Our guests nervously scan the foodless dinner table, a game of cat and mouse. Should they just guess what the answer is? How long will she wait for reply? One of us eventually takes one for the team and informs those present that once upon a time, women could not be called to the Torah, and now two of the three of the Shapiro granddaughters have been called as Bat Mitzvah, my cousin Robyn the only heathen.

My father starts to get rowdy, ready for the singing. He drums his knuckles on the table; “Day, Day-enu…”

“Joseph,” my aunt warns, gently. It isn’t time yet.

For us, at least, it doesn’t take too long to get wasted on Passover. Four glasses of wine, but we pregame with Ardbeg, which is a scotch that reeks with peat. Peat is a fancy word for clouds that hang right above your glass; it is not hard to swallow but not entirely delightful. My cousins, who have big cash money to travel, have spent countless hours scouring the Earth for the best specimens of alcohol, and deemed Ardbeg the champion. We sip slowly, but neat, no rocks or water to inhibit the slide down. And after the second glass of Manischewitz, you can’t even feel your toes anymore, anyway.

After dinner, my father gets rowdy again. We are waiting, expectantly, for the moment my aunt is satisfied that we have done our due diligence as Jews, when my uncles throw down their haggadahot, and when we are ready to begin the singing portion of the program.

We sing very inappropriate songs. Songs that are not fit for prime-time television. Songs that would make fraternity brothers blush. Juvenile works of absolute idiocy. We desecrate any holiness here.

Again, let me remind you, we are undeterred by outsiders. What’s a little anal sex talk between strangers? I often think, often think, what it must be like to be them, having to fold back into their cars at the end of the night, having experienced something akin to the worst play you’ve ever seen, with actors who can’t sing, singers who cannot act, and the drunk playwright leaning on the bar.

We, however, mishpacha, we are unabashed, brazen, immoral, flirting with indecent. Our visitors can sing, or not, do jello shots, or not, participate in harm, or not.

Someone opens the door for the prophet Elijah, and we sing in front of him, too. He can pull up a chair, or not. Once, we were enslaved in the land of Egypt and now we are free, Dayenu. Let’s drink, let’s sing, let’s hope nobody records us.


Amy Cook is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her work has been featured in thirteen literary journals, magazines and anthologies. Affiliations: 2021 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop (Advanced), NYCGMC alum, Lambda Legal

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