Award winning writer and comedian, Alan Zweibel was a total mensch for taking time in the midst of a tour with stops at The Friar’s Club and NYPL, to talk with the Rabbi Dan and Rebbetzin Alana about his new book, For This We Left Egypt, a collaboration with writers Dave Barry and Adam Mansbach.
This irreverent and hilarious interpretation of the Hagaddah has struck a nerve and is resonating with readers. And as Zweibel reveals, it’s not just about the humor, but also heart.
Q: What do you think it is about this book that’s striking a nerve with people?
AZ: One is the relatabilty of the terminability of how long these Seders can get. If you have kids at the table, they're starting to get antsy. Anyone at the table, is starting to get antsy! The food is getting cold. But I think It goes deeper than that. Passover is such a fun holiday. It's family. It's Spring. There's a joy about it. So we can make fun of the discomfort that comes with the prolonged Seder.
But it's about fun. I think that's a big component of it. Certain things like singing Dyenu, opening the door for Elijah, the youngest asking the four questions and people answering. We're so steeped in that tradition and it’s embraced and beloved. And the reliability is not only in the foibles of it, but it's based in something that is so joyous and celebratory. In my mind the components are there. There's an excitement about it. There's something celebratory even in the parody.
Q: Even though people make the jokes about how long and miserable it is, they still do it. Why? Out of all the Jewish rituals, it is the most practiced. Why do people keep doing it? What is at the heart of it?
AZ: To me, it's another form of Thanksgiving. We all look forward to Thanksgiving every year. You're celebrating Freedom. You have to get through Seder. It's still about something that's joyous. And a great excuse and a great reason for the whole family to be together. And I know the seders that we conduct, at the outset we go around the table and ask everyone to name something great that's happened to you in your life. And we are all together.
There's not that many times throughout the year where we’re all together. We have three children and five grandchildren and to get us all together in same place, it's a big to-do. Here everyone shows up. Everyone makes a point of to get together one way or another. In my family, it's sort of unheard of someone missing the seder. It's something we look forward to. Also, we look forward to the collective eye rolling when our stomachs starts to growl. It's a shared experience.
Q: Curious if I can ask you? Where does God fit in? As a comedian, as a writer, was God in a factor and thinking through this?
AZ: Well, I personally believe in God, so I don't have any issues; I came at this as a satirist, but I didn't have a bone to pick. I went to too many years of Hebrew school. You know, I was 6 years old in '56. The liberation was only 11 years earlier. My Grandparents were all alive. The Holocaust and anti-semitism - fear - to be on guard, as a young boy, these were the under tones. So now you come to my generation, we as grandparents, the assimilation, it’s that much more. The story of the Jews and the story of the Holocaust has become academic opposed to something that we lived through.
Q: Thank you. Just one last question. Last year, we were faced with a dilemma that might be better suited for a comedian than clergy to address. Our kids received Ten Plague Finger Puppets, and there’s actually a Death of the Firstborn Puppet. We’ve kept them in their packaging in a cabinet. What’s your take?
AZ: It’s one thing to stick your pinky in wine and say slaying of the first born, as opposed to slip on a puppet of a dead kid!
Personally, if it were me, I'd keep that puppet in the cabinet until the kids are close to Bar Mitzvah age.