When Dara’s father Passed On To Something Awesome (POTSA) I took very seriously the last email he ever sent me. He had thanked me for attending the family Skype Seder that brought us together from NYC, Vegas, Seattle and Bloomington, IL. Mel said, “Someday soon you’ll host Seder.” Judaism was super important to Mel and I knew it would gladden his heart from the great beyond for me to support Dara in her reconnection with Jewish culture after his passing. So I did the right goy girlfriend thing and bought a book (What to Do When You’re Dating a Jew: Everything You Need to Know from Matzoh Balls to Marriage) and read it cover to cover on the flight to Mel’s funeral.
Twilight at the Epic Seder.
It only took two years for me and Dara to host Seder for the family. Being the nontraditionalist goofball gang that are the Barlins, Seder was a few weeks early and lead by the youngest sibling (Dara). Her mom, brothers and their wives and kids came out to LA, rented an air bnb, we did Disneyland and all of that and added to the vacation plans having everyone over to our new place for Seder dinner. This was my first time. I wasn’t raised knowing how to pull off a huge, traditional family Seder in a working class household of just me and my not practicing Catholic mom. I know Judaism mostly from my awesome wildly nontraditional queer Jewish friends and that book I read. My Grandfather David was Jewish but was not in touch with his Judaism, a tale for another post. Dara had never hosted Seder before, either. We had to start from square one.
This was the cover of the Barlin Haggadah.
I literally cooked the whole meal from scratch. My menu was mostly Martha Stewart and I made a gluten-free option for everything. My pinterest for the Seder is pretty cute and extremely ambitious. The gluten-free matzo balls were German potato knaidelach and I made them specifically to honor Grandfather David who escaped Germany and the holocaust on the last train possible out of their village. When we no longer have our family recipes due to circumstances or anti-semitism, we create our own traditions. Potato Knaidelach matzo balls are a delicious new one.
Haroset made as an experiential performance piece cuts down on some of the prep time.
The Seder at our house was a complete mishigas. We had just moved in 6 weeks earlier, so the house was cray. A bunch of stuff fell through that affected the planning and execution of the meal. The haggadah Dara wrote using Haggadot.com wouldn’t print out at Staples. There was a minute we thought the whole meal wouldn’t happen because Dara’s mom got sick. Due to that, the meal got a late start, yet I was still cooking during the entire meal. Afterwards we had a lot of areas for growth to review. (But the memories of Dara and her brothers singing Pesach Man to the tune of Piano Man, and her incredible nieces and nephews acting out the plagues, and the sweetness and support of Amy and Chau the sisters-in-law Barlin will be forever etched into the mishigas of our first ever Seder.)
I played God and Dara played Elijah for our Seder play. My costume is literally a very pretty piece of fabric I had pinned together but hope to one day sew it into a beautiful see through mumu. The costumes were very DIY aesthetic.
In spite of all that, we decided to push forward and apply for a grant Dara heard about to throw an EPIC Seder. If a regular Seder with 11 family members was such a beautiful disaster, what could we do if we had FUNDING? I want you to know that as I write this I understand the logic is missing but we didn’t really see it. We had the Spirit about it, wanted to do a big fun thing for our friends in LA and consecrate our house as a gathering place for meaningful rituals and karaoke.
When I can get my hunky queer friends (like Dari here) in hunky costumes I know I am doing a favor for everyone on my social media.
Last summer Dara went on the trip of a lifetime with the Schusterman Foundation that works to incubate a new generation of leaders. Part of their work is funding cool stuff that their incubated leaders come up with. My perspective on the grant application was threefold: yay to Dara wanting to explore her Judaism by hosting Seder, yay to getting funding to throw a party but also OMG what are we getting ourselves into we just moved to LA and are both starting small businesses.
We got the grant and we pushed on.
Our neighbor Michael played Moses and he NAILED IT.
The planning and execution of the grant was not any more serene than the first Seder, but we managed to do it and the results were extraordinary. I quit the Seder for a couple of days because I got too overwhelmed and went to Grandmothers. Of course, “quitting” the Seder still meant I spent hours working on buying decor for the event in Grandmother’s living room.
I always believe the Universe has your back and we went to a queer party called Sunday Service in Highland Park a couple weeks ahead of time. The girlfriend of the party promoter was in the back selling brisket sandwiches and we got her info. Luckily Amber was super excited about and willing to cater the party for us at cost and told an amazing story of resilience you can see in the video below. It was a relief to me to not have to cook everything, but still a bummer because I love to cook for people. My perfectionism is a difficult burden to bear but I have to honor my capacity!
I’m very proud of my tablescapes and wish it hadn’t been so windy. The plates are all from Amazon, the burlap is from JoAnn’s (I went to TOWN on coupons) and plants were from Home Depot.
Dara wrote an entire Seder play. She conceived of a whole event styled after Sleep No More (if you’re not familiar with the epic immersive performance experience, I wrote it up here) and cast our friends in roles in the play. In addition to reading from the script, they were also going to be part of the experiential hour ahead of time. I designed a room to look like an Egyptian Royalty Den, Dara made a spinner to give people ways to interact with the royalty. (Alana was the Pharoah and Jenni was the Princess and they both nailed it.) Our buddy T and his adorable pit bull Blue acted as the “guards.”
Queer Femmes Jenni & Alana playing the Pharoah and the Princess. Nailed it.
There was a brick making station where folks made Haroset and put them into these bricks that Dara bought meant for kids’ building blocks. We had a room for people to make Plague finger puppets. Everyone was wearing costumes, that’s how we greeted people so they could get in their parts. I think you can imagine the logistics were outrageous.
Plague finger puppets.
We rented furniture for the courtyard between our house and the house behind ours. I took some of my Girl Scout event planning roots and bought cute plants, took cute paper and wrapped the pots to make centerpieces. Cute pinwheels and handmade bunting lining the yard made it look so festive. I also designed a “burning bush” out of our avocado tree. I spent HOURS trying to figure out the right lighting solution for the burning bush but I don’t think I nailed it.
Build out of the Egyptian Royalty Den.
In addition to the play, Dara wrote another Haggadah. Much shorter. We did some prayers, four questions and then had small group discussions about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Some of my favorite event and performance work is making stuff really fun, then going deep, then going fun again. I think it makes the emotional and educational work more effective.We honored resilience from slavery, both the Jews from slavery in Egypt but also the ways in which slavery and oppression affect us today. The stories of resilience people offered were so incredible.
Resilience talk back. Dara and I are both professional facilitators so…
After the second part of the play we capped the evening off with Schmores (chocolate covered matza, coconut covered marshmallows roasted over the fire) and Jewish karaoke. It was really fun and a great way to end the evening. Did you know Paula Abdul is Jewish? Check out some of the Jewish karaoke gems in the amazing video Dara edited together below.
Our friends really went there making stylish costumes out of burlap.
Thanks again to the Schusterman Foundation for their generous support of creating weird, queer, beautiful, contemporary takes on Jewish tradition.
Check out this fabulous video Dara did about our Epic Seder, it really tells the story better than I can. I know folks walked away from that night ignited and so did we.
I want to acknowledge all the folks who helped make the Seder happen on the ground. Amber and her amazing helper behind the buffet table, Scott our neighbor/videographer, Dari and Jenn for helping us get our house together, all the friends who had roles in the Seder play, and especially Victoria who swooped in three days before and was wildly helpful setting it up. I love you, miss you and pray for you.