Saturday, August 30, 2014 Elul 4, 5774

An SOS From My OS Seder

April 7, 2014 By:
Edmon J. Rodman, JTA
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LOS ANGELES — At future Passovers, if we consider the Jewish implications of the recent hit movie Her, we all could be using a talking computer operating system with artificial intelligence to lead our seders.
 
But I can’t wait that long.
 
Tired of running my own seders — they’ve grown ever more complicated as my guests study up about the seder beforehand and persist in asking pesky questions that I cannot answer — I imagined buying a cool digital maven to run our yearly Haggadah-fest.
 
After all, I reasoned, isn’t the Passover Haggadah already a kind of operating system designed to tell the story of our going out from Egypt? With all that telling and retelling, exacting rituals and a key conundrum about why this night is different, I figured the whole thing was in better hands, so to speak, with a system with enough bytes to chew through all the matzah-speak.
 
Already there were iPad seders on the market from companies like Melcher Media, 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?
 
When the system arrived the day of our seder — I had found an ad for it in the back pages of Ziontific American — 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 central to the Exodus, his name appears only once, in passing, in the Haggadah. Should I add it to a few more places?” the OS system asked.
 
“Can we leave the text alone?” I countered, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
 
“Kol b’seder,” Moshe responded in Hebrew for “Everything’s in order.”
 
But whose?
 
“Accessing the Haggadah text you selected, I’m also wondering about what pronoun to use for God. He? 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 prospect of an earlier meal.
 
Short went long, however, as we got to Yachatz.
 
“This is the bread of affliction, 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 Marla, who after a Ph.D. in physics had become a drummer in a post-punk group.
 
“Tomorrow I will send out email addresses to organizations where you can give tzedakah,” 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 pronunciation — 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, another 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?” my wife asked, trying to defuse things.
 
After dinner, and listening to Moshe’s table inquiries about our various hair-coloring, 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 off to join the other seder OS systems. While you were eating dinner, we discussed the coming of this invisible prophet and found the concept intriguing. We decided to have our own exodus 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@gmail.com.

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