At Passover, we recall the 10 plagues, recite the four questions, have two seders and leave one cup empty for Elijah.
And now, here are three examples of Passover done memorably in film and television. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
In this anglicized version of “Rechov Sumsum,” the Israeli “Sesame Street,” Grover and guest star Anneliese van der Pol (“That’s So Raven,” Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast”) fly to Israel so that Grover can experience his first Passover seder.
Their host is a grandmotherly figure who greets them with a hearty chag pesach sameach. As the safta begins to explain the contents of the seder plate to Grover, she makes a startling discovery: There’s no maror. She searches the house high and low — no sign of chametz and no sign of horseradish.
Chaos threatens when a panic-stricken Grover, though a Passover neophyte, reasons quite rightly, “We can’t have a seder without the maror, and we cannot have Passover without the seder!”
It’s not a conflict that walks a knife’s edge, suspense-wise, but, keep in mind, it’s for preschoolers.
An archetypal hero’s quest ensues, with Grover and Anneliese prepared to procure the maror by any means necessary, including subterfuge.
Their friend and local gardener, Lemlem, informs them she’s sold her last horseradish to Moishe Oofnik, “Rechov Sumsum’s” resident grouch. Like his American counterpart, Oscar, he, too, lives in a garbage can and is of foul stench and disposition.
The Oofnik is not keen on parting with his horseradish — “You want help … from me?” he asks with mocking coyness. “You’re forgetting. I’m an Oofnik, and Oofniks don’t help. Now scram!”
But Anneliese has one more rotten trick at her disposal.
She knocks again on the trash bin’s lid that doubles as Oofnik’s front door, suddenly dressed as a block of moldy, stinking cheese — the kind irresistible to Oofniks everywhere. Anneliese deceives the Oofnik by telling him there will be plenty more of the funky stuff at the seder, but the invite is contingent upon the Oofnik contributing the horseradish to the seder plate.
It’s a classic children’s tale of duplicity and double-dealing, and it’s brought to you by the letters hei and mem.
“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)
It’s Woody Allen’s tale of the big shot (Martin Landau) getting away with murder and the neurotic, truth-seeking, struggling artist (Allen) losing the girl (Mia Farrow) to the pompous, societally preapproved glad-hander (Alan Alda).
Allen’s character is left believing that righteousness doesn’t pay in the end, but Landau’s psychological torment after murdering his mistress belies the notion that the universe is devoid of justice and fairness.
Landau’s character, Judah, was raised in a home where his father revered the teachings of the Torah above all else. As a young boy, Judah would listen to his father and his pseudo-intellectual aunt debate the relative merits of faith versus reason. In the famous seder scene that’s presented as an almost invasive memory, a visceral flashback, Judah’s father, during one of these philosophical debates, announces passionately, “If necessary, I will always choose God over truth.”
Judah, who became a respected doctor, thought he had cast away the religion he was raised on, but in reckoning with the crime he’s committed, he cannot shake the belief that his father was right all along, that there really is a God up there watching, judging and keeping score.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: “The Seder” (Season 5, 2005)
Passover’s coming, a sex offender moves into the Davids’ neighborhood and someone is stealing Larry’s morning
Most troubling for Larry is that the sex offender is a bald man, which he laments as bad for the already-beleaguered bald community.
Meanwhile, Larry’s gentile wife, Cheryl, is hosting her first seder, and is on the verge of pronouncing charoset correctly. This turns out to be the least of her worries, as Larry, in ways both intentional and not, assembles a most-combustible group to gather around his seder table.
There’s the cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Marc, whom Larry accuses of stealing his morning paper; there are the Davids’ elderly neighbors, Ethel and Mac, whom Larry invites because he believes Ethel, a keen investigative eye and neighborhood busybody, will be able to finger Dr. Marc as the paper pilferer; and there’s the bald sex offender himself, whom Larry befriends after a series of random encounters culminates in the former fixing Larry’s golf swing.
No David gathering would be complete without Larry’s best friend and manager, Jeff, and his wife, Larry’s foul-mouthed chief antagonist, Susie. Susie’s brought her brother along, an ardent George W. Bush supporter (recall, this is 2005) who posits that every 77 years produces a great president: Washington, Lincoln, FDR … and W.
That sort of talk goes over about as well as expected at a Hollywood seder but is a relatively benign offense until the neocon discloses material nonpublic information concerning the afikomen’s whereabouts to his son, a most egregious violation which the sex-offender spots and feels duty-bound to report to Larry.
What ensues is Larry being Larry, the foremost authority on decorum, meting out comeuppance to all who step afoul of his proprietary sense of it.
The episode’s ultimate scene is the second funniest Heimlich maneuver scenario of the entire series and one only Larry David’s maladjusted genius could pull off.
Honorable mention: “Uncut Gems” (2019), Family Guy: “Family Goy” (2009), Sports Night: “April is the Cruelest Month” (Season 2, 2000).
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