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The Feldman Dynamic: Seder-in-Place

The Feldman Dynamic: Seder-in-Place

Presented via “Houseparty”

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because this Seder is online and gives us the social distancing we need to survive. But it’s a software nightmare; creator Brian Feldman chose to present on a trendy app called “Houseparty.” Aimed at cell phones, you can get it to run on Chrome if you curse and swear enough. I’m juggling a tower computer, two browsers, a laptop and a cell phone trying to get this to work on short notice. I may not be out and about as much, but I’m getting a crash course in all the technology I’ve dodged since Win10 appeared. The stress and sensory overload recalls the Philistines smiting Jerusalem, and those Philistines really knew how to smite. But I connect, even if no one can see or hear me. I am the critic on the wall.

-bmChaos reigns in the first of four sessions. People talk, Feldman dons a yarmulke as does his father, Ed. They pass out matzo and drink wine or wine substitute. Personally, I went with fine “Black Box Pinot Noir.” I stir in some sugar making it more like the well-aged Mogen David my mother used to keep in the closet. Now it’s time to wash our hands for the first but not the last time. It’s an actual Seder ritual, not just a nod to the Coronavirus crisis.

My dinner here at home fails the kosher test. I grabbed a Cobb salad from Publix, and it boasts both ham AND bacon. There may be theological implications, but I’m protected by McAffee here in my hurricane proof lair on the highest point in Orlando. I grabbed matzo as well; it should pair nicely with cheese. But it’s like a giant cracker six inches on a side and as fragile as the original Constitution. Not sure I have that much cheese.

The Seder is in full swing. Everyone chatters over one another, and the cheap microphones don’t help. I have no camera or microphone on the computer I’m “Housepartying” with, but that allows me a much more relaxed dress code. A weird feedback loop adds atmosphere, and the Seder-in-Place generates the chaos you expect from any good family holiday dinner. So far, no fights.

“Houseparty” limits a session to eight people at a crack, and four of them are the Feldman family. I’m in for all sessions, so that leaves room for only 12 other viewers tonight. We begin the Seder ritual. Deciding who reads what takes time, and the Feldman clan argues who is the youngest and therefore must read “The Four Questions.” Brian explains the tradition as the other guests sound like aliens arguing under water. I have no camera on this particular computer; thus my image is a pink square with a question mark implying the conundrum: “Am I really there?” Of course. Someone needs to document this. Some guests I know arrive: Terry Olson, Director Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs, and Bonnie Sprung, a long-time Fringe friend. I feel like part of the family, even as I remain digitally mute. Eventually Feldman finds my email about my non-camera and suggests I use my cell phone camera. No dice, this was hard enough. Feldman bravely sticks to the order of Seder, fighting family chaos, and Ed reads nine of the ten plagues as a drinking game. Rain, Locusts, Mice, Darkens, the lack of Kosher options at barbeque joints. The tsuris just goes on…

By session three Feldman mostly gives up on the ritual and talk turns to disease and politics. More hand washing, more politics. They pass around a vegan Passover dinner and we learn beets may be substituted for lamb. It’s all just symbolic, more fun that the Christian rituals, AND easier to clean up.

Seder winds down. The last tranche of guests arrive: a nice couple from D.C. The political anger is purged, and we enter the post dinner chat phase and discover what’s happening in the DC arts scene. Feldman explains his distaste for Improv Comedy: In high school he had an improv bit go wrong and split his chin open. That’s our Feldman: Always 110% in on everything. Feldman’s mother Marilyn tells the tale of delivering a baby in a Pennsylvania Blizzard. Bonnie Sprung chats amiably as we prepare to drink our forth cup of wine. The evening dissipates and soon it’s time to leave and let the Feldmans do dishes. We stand for the closing song and shout the Jewish farewell: “Next year: in PERSON!”


I hang up my computer and get a beer. Time to go to work.


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