This year’s Passover feels a little too on the nose, even for an occasion that requires you pour a full glass of wine for a person who does not exist. We’re in the midst of an actual plague, one that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. To put it simply, this year’s Seder is not going to look anything like we thought it would: Instead of getting wine-drunk with our grandmas and rapaciously consuming herbs dipped in saltwater as we wait for fish meatloaf, we’re all holed up in our own little bunkers, slowly going insane, planning family dinners over an insecure software program that has been incessantly hacked by shitty teenagers.
I tasked myself with planning my own family’s Zoom Seder this year, and at first, I was tempted to fill my de facto screenshot Haggadah with references to our current global health crisis. Passover teaches us that we’re meant to derive meaning from suffering, that the sheer fact of enduring pain is itself laudable. But it’s hard to extract lessons from suffering when you’re still in the middle of the suffering, and it’s also hard to be deep when you have not read a single book in over a month. So instead, I found myself turning to a … different source of inspiration. This Passover, I think we should derive meaning from drama that has absolutely nothing to do with the current state of the world. What I’m trying to say is that I think we should derive meaning — and inspiration — from Uncut Gems.
The Seder scene in Uncut Gems is, theoretically, a peaceful respite from the absolute mayhem of Howard Ratner’s (Adam Sandler) life. He and his soon-to-be ex-wife (Idina Menzel) even agree to wait until “after Passover” to tell the kids they’re splitting up. But in actuality, it’s just as fraught with tension as the rest of the film: Howard is carrying a rare black opal in a plastic bag while staring down a man he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to and who has just recently thrown Howard ass-naked into the trunk of his own car; he must surreptitiously text his estranged mistress (Julia Fox) under the table while sitting next to his estranged wife; his apartment may or may not be for sale on Craigslist; he appears to have absconded from his goal weight. The holidays are never perfect, but Howard’s is particularly dysfunctional — and yet, he seems to genuinely enjoy himself, smiling at his children, puffing a cigar, and attempting to reconcile with his truly aghast wife. This year, I suggest we all lean deeply into this sort of crazy, and emulate our modern Jewish icons of anxiety, the Ratners. Here’s how:
Rushing to get to his in-laws’ house after screaming at his mistress in an elevator bank, Howard encounters several people who wish him a “good Pesach.” Howard endures the well wishes with irritation and a light burn. “All right, Larry, you’re a Jew again?” he asks one friend as he passes him on the street. “Welcome back.” Gentle roasting is a key component of Jewish culture that should not be forgotten, even during a pandemic.
Swap Out Parsley for Celery
The Ratners dip celery in saltwater instead of parsley, which, at first, was stunning to me, as someone who grew in a parsley-only house. Upon reconsideration, however, 2020 feels like a celery year to me. Celery is both heartier and more widely available at this point in time, and if you have leftovers, you can use your celery stalks as fake cigars, because you don’t have cigars (see below).
Text Under the Table
Texting under the table (or during Passover services) is a tradition as old as getting fingered in the back of the bus on the way to the Bat Mitzvah party. Howard is very bad at surreptitious texting: The key is to keep your gaze level while your fingers do the work (same applies to back-of-bus fingering technique). This year, while we’re all on Zoom, it will be easier than ever to text under the proverbial table, and we should absolutely all take advantage of this.
Imbue the Plague Recitations With Shade
A plague recitation is never just a plague recitation. There is always some kind of latent, interfamilial drama that quietly surfaces while everyone is monotonously intoning, “Dam — blood. Tzfardeiya — frogs. Kinim — lice.” This is particularly true for the Ratners’ plague reading, during which Idina Menzel makes a series of incredibly shady faces as her soon-to-be-ex-husband does the honors. Howard even takes the opportunity to threaten his own children: “Death of the firstborn. Hardcore. That can still happen. Watch yourselves.” Zoom is a perfect outlet for this sort of shade, and I suggest you practice now. Maybe your cousin had lice and you want her to know you won’t forget it — a good raised eyebrow is key. Maybe your aunt killed her firstborn and you’re not legally allowed to address it — a pursed lip will do the trick.
Weigh Yourself Mid-Dinner
Howard runs to the bathroom to leave a furious voice-mail for Julia, his mistress, but is not too angry to remember to weigh himself in the middle of dinner with all of his clothes on, including his shoes. This is the most lunatic, self-destructive thing a person can do during Passover. Try it this year!
Smoke Cigars Inside and Talk Shit
After dinner, Howard and his fellow men retreat to the living room, where they smoke cigars and talk shit about their family members. If you’re lucky enough to have cigars right now, good for you, and I’m also suspicious of you. I’m going to talk shit about you during my Seder. If you have no cigars on hand, roll a celebratory Passover joint, and if that’s also not possible, I suggest celery as a last resort.
Distract Kids With Pointless Quest
An onslaught of dry carbs often makes children insufferable, so the Jews invented the afikomen search many centuries ago to distract them. Howard and his in-laws sit, watching basketball and smoking, as their children exhaust themselves in a quixotic quest for a piece of matzo wrapped in cloth, a completely pointless task that no child has ever thought to question. It’ll be hard to accomplish this over Zoom, but a friend of mine suggested a Where’s Waldo–type situation instead, where the kids pore endlessly over the background of your Zoom. Just as exhausting, with the added benefit of screen time.
Try on Your Bat Mitzvah Dress
After the Ratners’ Passover dinner, Dinah prances into her old bedroom and tries on her Bat Mitzvah dress, a hideous pink confection that still fits. Everyone shrieks in awe. This is the most Jewish shit of all time: stuffing a woman full of carbs, then asking her to reanimate her teenage body. You’ve already weighed yourself mid-Zoom-Seder — why not unhinge yourself entirely from your logical mind by trying on a dress from your youth?
Attempt to Get Back Together With an Ex
Stunned by Dinah’s ability to fit into a dress, Howard attempts to win her back. It does not go as planned. She laughs loudly into his face: “You’re the most annoying man I’ve ever met.” During quarantine, a lot of us have had similar experiences, albeit over text or perhaps Instagram DMs. Why not use Passover as one last-ditch effort to win back someone you totally fucked over many years before? If it goes poorly, you can blame it on the Manischewitz.