Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Elul 28, 5774

Holiday Time, aka the Back Story of Strangers in a Strange Land

April 19, 2007 By:
Roy S. Gutterman, JE Feature
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Sitting on my sofa last year devouring the contents of a box of matzah the first night of Passover, I started thinking about the four questions. Asking myself, why is this night different from any other night, I realized, on this family-oriented holiday, that I could not adequately answer the question.

As a single man, when I eat at home, my dining room is my sofa, and my company is usually my television. Most single people eat this way. So, last year's Passover was really no different than any other dinner, except, of course, for the matzah.

Because of scheduling, both last year and this year, I couldn't make it home to New Jersey to celebrate the holiday. And for the past couple years, my Jewish friends here in Syracuse were either out of town or were invited to other friends' seders, leaving me on my own.

At least this year, just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a seder at my temple. It was nice, even though it was mostly for families with loud kids. Not surprisingly, I was the only single male in attendance. To the best of my knowledge, there were no single women in my age range among the 150-plus people there.

With the reading of the Haggadah and prayers -- and with all the kids scouring the hall for the afikomen -- I realized, partially thanks to the married couples sitting at my table, that there might be a little-known fifth question: Are you married, and if not, why not?

The Elephant in the Room

Granted, that is really two questions, and I have no biblical or rabbinical authority for this. My evidence is purely anecdotal. But because this is a family-centered holiday and because of the seder's historical role in Jewish family life, I'm fairly certain that countless singles around the world fielded such questions.

Family gatherings always amplify "single" status, sometimes making it the elephant in the room. With relatives and friends and all the wonderful stuff that comes along with kids, singles not only stand out, but are often left completely out of the conversation.

I've encountered these freeze-outs at a number of functions, whether it's at parties or fundraisers. When the married gather, especially those with small children present, there is often little I can contribute to a conversation about nursery school, day care or after-school activities.

Despite the awkwardness of being the only single male at the seder table, Passover offers some themes for singles, in addition to a few perks. The seder table is a great place to meet and socialize if there are other unmarried people or extended families in attendance. And, at the very least, one of those hulking five-pound matzah boxes could last a long time as dinner for one.

Passover also has a host of themes unmarried people can relate to. Think about it: Moses, our central protagonist, spent a lot of time wandering through the desert all by himself. That's about as single as you can get! Many of us sometimes feel like we're wandering out there alone and aimless in our own personal deserts.

What would Moses' online profile say? "I'm a devoted and loyal former prince who enjoys long walks in the sand. I enjoy quiet nights in the tent and wild nights at the pyramids. Drop me a note and follow me to the Promised Land. No smokers or idolaters need apply."

Historical purists might note that Moses and his people did not actually build the pyramids, but this would not be the first time someone exaggerated on a dating site.

No doubt, before he married Zipporah, Moses would have been popular with the ladies. He was a charismatic leader who kept company in high places, bore laws and carried a big staff. The women would have loved him.

And then there's another tradition, one that encourages us to welcome outsiders to the table. When I lived in Cleveland in my early- to mid-20s, my friend's family had me over to all the holidays. I was always welcome.

Passover is such a family event that singles easily feel excluded from the ceremony. But remember that outsider status. The Jews were oppressed outsiders in Egypt. On top of that, Moses was the ultimate outsider -- at times to the Egyptians, the Israelites, even his own family.

Last but not least, there's another powerful element to the holiday theme. While we open the door every year for the Prophet Elijah, it's also a tradition to open the door to travelers and other Jews who have no place else to go.

Since the door's open anyway, why not invite a single person to walk in?

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.

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