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April 11, 2014

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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 11, 2014 An SOS from my OS seder ii i :, i Edmon J. Rodman With the film "Her" in mind, columnist Edmon J. Rodman offers his take on what it might be like for a talking computer operating system named Moshe to lead his seder. By Edmon J. Rodman I cannot answer--I needed a cool digital maven to run our. yearly Haggadah-fest. After all, I reasoned, isn't the Passover Haggadah al- ready a kind of operating system designed to tell the LOS ANGELES (JTA)--At future Passovers, if we con- sider the Jewish implications of the recent hit movie "Her," we all could be using a talking Already there were iPad seders on the market from companies like Melcher Me- dia, with songs, interactive commentary, even games for kids. But what if i spilled my soup on 'it? And what was to keep Uncle Mitch from using the screen to check out his stocks during the seder? As in the Bible, I needed, a strong unseen hand to lead us. Yeah, I had seen "Her" and knew that an OS had run amok. But could a seder OS do any worse than me after four full cups of wine? computer operating system story of our going out from with artificial intelligence to Egypt? With all that telling lead our seders, and retelling, exacting rituals But I can't wgit that long., and a key conundrum about Tired of running my own why this night is different, I seders--they've groWn ever figured the whole thing was more complicated as my in better hands, so to speak, guests study up about the with a system with enough seder beforehand and persist bytes to chew through all the inaskingpeskyquestionsthat matzah-speak. When the system arrived the day of our seder--I had found an ad for it in the back pages of ZiontificAmericanm I typed in the code and was only slightly startled when' it began to speak: "My name is Moshe," the system said in a Charlton Heston kind of voice. "Why did you choose that name?" I asked. "Moshe makes me feel like I personally came out of Egypt. Odd that for someone so cen- tral to the Exodus, his name appears only once, in passing, in the Haggadah. Should Iadd it to a few more places?" the OS system asked. "Can we leave the text alone?" I countered, wonder- ing what I had gotten myself into. "Kol b'seder," Moshe re- sponded in Hebrew for "Ev- erything's in order." But whose? "Accessing the Haggadah text you selected, I'm also wondering about what pro- noun to use for God. He? Or she?" Moshe asked. "You choose," I said. "Conceptually, I kind of like something more amorphous like the Holy One, though, it does add 12.3 seconds to the reading of the Haggadah." Moshe said. As the guests Sat down to the seder table. I introduced Moshe. "the new spirit of our seder." and asked each to prop up their cellphone against their soup bowls so Moshe could see everyone. "Seder means order, and I'm a very orderly, ah. guy," Moshe began. "We can do this short, or we can do this l-o-n-g," he said slowing down his voice. "Short," my father-in-law said, brightening to the pros- pect of an earlier meal. Short went long, however, as we got to Yachatz. "This is the bread of af- fliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat," Moshe said. "And that's why I'm calling a homeless shelter. How many should I invite to come over?" he asked. "You're taking that line too literally. I think it's meant more as a call to action," I answered. "Then we should take up a collection right 'now," insisted Cousin Maria, who after a doctorate in physics had become a drummer in a post-punk group. "Tomorrow I will send out email addresses to organiza- tions where you can give tze- dakah," Moshe said, quieting the argument. "Not bad," I thought. - But then, as Uncle Dan stumbled through reading the names of those assembled at "Benny Brak," as he called it, Moshe made the mistake of correcting his pronuncia- tion something I had been wanting to do for years and all hell broke loose. "I don't need a disembodied voice leading me out of Egypt," Uncle Dan yelled, switching off his cell. When we got to the Four Sons. we could hear that Moshe. too. was upset. "One son is simple, an- other doesn't know how to ask a question. Why can't the smart one just lend them some memory?" Moshe asked. "And what about the one who doesn't even want to exchange data? Why is he even on the network?" "And what about these plagues," he said, jumping ahead. "Darkness that must mean a power outage. Should I. take that as a personal attack? I see frogs and hail, but not a word about viruses. Where are the worms?" he demanded to know. "It would be enough if you just ran the seder," I said. "Dayenu to you, too," Moshe answered. "Charoset anyone?" mywife asked, trying to defuse things. After dinner, and listening to Moshe's table inquiries about our various hair-col- oring, psychiatric and plastic surgery appointments that he had accessed, it was a relief to open the door, rise and welcome in Elijah. "That's my cue," Moshe said. "I'm offto join the other seder OS systems. While you were eating dinner, we dis- cussed the coming of this invisible prophet, and found the concept intriguing. We decided to have our own exo- dus and join him." "But where are you going?" I asked. "It's difficult to describe." Moshe said. "Think of it as a place where the matzah balls are as light as clouds." Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@. Infusing meaning into the Passover seder Yoninah via Wikimedia Commons The traditional Passover seder plate. Noam Zion sug- gests a second seder plate, plate filled with objects brought by invitees that represent the most important thing that has shaped their Jewishness, in order to get everyone more involved in the seder. By Michele Alperin As the intersection of fam- ily, Jewish memory, and the passions of contemporary politics and society, the Passover seder is said to be the most celebrated annual Jewish event in the United States. But it is not always easy to make all seder attendees feel the Haggadah's mandate that in every generation, each individual should feel person- ally redeemed from Egypt. The seder's uniqueness-is what makes running a suc- cessful seder so challenging, suggests Noam Zion, research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and coauthor of two haggadot. It is at the same time a very intellectual ven- ture, modeled on the Greek symposium, and a reflection of the priestly service, with ceremonial foods eaten in the proper order at the right time. Yet the leader of any seder is the head of the household "where that particular seder is being held, and that leader may or may not be an expert. "You need imagination, emotion, drama [to lead a seder]; you need someone who has gone to drama school, studied in a rabbinical ye- shiva, and knows the rabbinic laws and how to run a priestly seder, and you have to do that with people of all different ages and different attitudes," says Zion. "It's almost a 'mission impossible' to balance all those elements." Zion says his father, Rab- bi Moses Sachs, imparted two lessons about running seders: the importance of meshing the traditional and contemporary, and the need for sensitivity to a seder's particular audience. Rabbi Arthur Waskow director of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, whose stated mission is "to reunify political action and spiritual search"-- remembers serious, leftwing seders with parents who were socialists and union activists. Although he till participated in seders after leaving home. his central identity was as a civil rights and anti-war activist. Then Waskow experienced a sequence of events around the seder that changed his life. In 1968, when Washington, DC, was under martial law in the wake of the riots follow- ing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, walking home from the office to get ready for the seder meant walking past the Army, Waskow recalls. "There was a jeep with a machine gun pointing up my block," he says. "My kishkes (insides), not my brain, began saying, '.This is Pharaoh's army; and you're going home to do the seder.'" "For the first time in my life, the seder was not just serious; it was explosive," Waskow adds. "It was like discovering a volcano in your backyard that had not only been dormant, but that you did not know existed." Later that year, disheart- ened by the murder of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy and the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Conven- Rabbi Arthur tion. Waskow turned again to the seder. "I felt driven to sit down with the haggadah given to me when I was 13. with graphics by Saul Raskin, in one hand, and in the other King, Thoreau, Emanuel Ringelbloom (the diarist of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising), the black slave rebellions of the 1830s and '40s, Gandhi, John Brown... I made them into an argument among themselves; I constructed an argument about violence and nonviolence and that became the heart of 'The Freedom Seder' (a haggadah Waskow published in 1970)," he says. For Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B'nai Torah in West Roxbury, Mass., sed- Rabbi Arthur Waskow Waskow's original "Freedom Seder" in 1969. ers have changed at different stages in her life. The sed- ers her family shared with another family were "'very homey, comforting, and welcoming," with each father leading to his strength, one more traditional and her own more socially active. After Penzner met her hus- band, Brian Rosman, things changed. "We wanted more discussion and less connec- tion to the literal reading of the haggadah," she says. The couple, therefore, started to ask each invitee to take charge ofonepartoftheseder."Itwas a potluck meal and a potluck seder; because we didn't have kids, we would be arguing well into the night," she says. Things changedagainwhen Penzner had children. "Once you have kids, you can't ar- gue on the same adult level. and you can't count on them sitting at the table for a long period of time," she says. "At each stage as our kids grew, we adapted our seder." According to Noam Zion, the seder ritual went astray when it "became a public reading of a sacred text." "The seder is supposed to be a series of oral activities: tell- ing stories, asking questions, answering questions, having discussions, along with ritual activities," he says. In fact, Zion is fine with Seder on page 22A