Every year, Marge Piercy, beloved poet and novelist, has been making her own Passover seder with a group of family and friends. Over the years, babies have been born and grown up, friends move and divorce, but over time the principals gather in her rustic Cape Cod home to participate in a seder that Piercy takes joy in refreshing with the object above all to create meaning. Making her way through the ritual one item and one practice at a time, she coaxes us toward “a significant contemporary interpretation, rather than an emphasis on what is strictly ‘correct’ or traditional.” She discusses her grandmother, who thought herself unworthy to lead a seder because of her limited Hebrew, but presided “morally” at the table; she explores the reasons that some Jews add an orange to their seder plate; she even describes her heroic efforts to make her own Gefilte fish (an experiment not to be repeated). Along the way, Piercy offers her distinct slant on each element of the feast and its symbols, and dozens of her own wonderful recipes. “Food sometimes feels like emotion made edible,” she writes, and her recipes are delivered in the same warm and commanding voice as her poems and prose: “When I told Ira that I was going to explain how to cook matzah brei, he thought I was crazy. Everybody knows how to make matzah brie, he said. But I am of the opinion that there is no longer anything that everybody knows how to cook.”
It is in that spirit — no question taken for granted — that Piercy welcomes readers to her kind of seder: a homemade and personal affair, the kind of seder we all wish we could be invited to. “Why should you do all the work?” she asks. “Get your people involved.” This charming and instructive book of Passover wisdom, brimming with favorite dishes and Marge Piercy’s own moving Passover poems and blessings, as well as fascinating histories of the Passover foods we all love, invites us to look at an important Jewish ritual in a whole new way.