At Thomas Jefferson’s Seder

A new genetic study raises the tantalizing possibility that Thomas Jefferson may have had Jewish ancestry. Sign Up For Our

A new genetic study raises the tantalizing possibility that Thomas Jefferson may have had Jewish ancestry.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="noreferrer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

Newsweek (3/12/07)

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family, one being an occasion that occurred on Monday past. Misfortune had befallen cousin Mendel who, arriving at our Seder tardy by some three hours, offered the divulgation that he had proceeded toward the wrong Monticello, that being the one on Route 17.

Schmendrick,” I said upon his arrival at our residence, “a thousand times I have told you, do not confuse your Monticellos!”

By that time, Martha was greatly vexed and verklempt—the brisket had lain upon the coals for too long, and the shikseh Abigail Adams evinced little practical capacity for assistance in matters culinary.

All the previous week, Martha had labored with abundant exertion to effect Monticello’s Pesach transformation. Our youngest daughter, Lucy Elizabeth, had endured the journey from the University of Virginia, where she is busy establishing Hillel, for the purpose of adding her assistance. All carpets were cleaned, silver burnished, and my prized portraits of Locke, Newton and Bacon reframed. (The latter being the only bacon permitted in Monticello.)

I bestowed upon Benjamin Franklin, as the eldest at the table, the appreciable honor of commencing the Seder by pronouncing the blessing over the wine. I felt it best to constrain him with brevity, as the alte kacker habitually requires half an hour to effectuate a common greeting.

Our four-year-old niece Chana proffered the four questions, which she had learned in substance at her Yeshiva day school. But no sooner had she concluded singing “Ma Nishtanah” than Aaron Burr’s farbissineh wife Theodosia said in a whisper loud enough for all to hear, “That girl’s voice would shatter a goblet.” This in turn precipitated much tumultuous argument, with the majority agreeing that Chana had carried the tune laudably.

Allowing ample time for the spirited discourse to conclude, my bubbe and zayde, who had been quietly enjoying the Seder, requested silence so the ceremony could proceed. (The goyim always seem to dine with nary a voice raised at the table. I intend to seek amplification on this subject from Elbridge Gerry and Button Gwinnett.)

We moved on to reading Deuteronomy line by line and, by happenstance, “the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with an outstretched hand” fell to me. This passage evoked the most vivid recollections; in truth, I felt a powerful urge to once again declare independence.

I bade John Adams read the description of the ten plagues, with John performing in yeomanlike manner until the text arrived at boils. “Boils!” he shouted. “I shall show thee boils!” He lifted his ruffles and opened the chemise, uncovering a disagreeable array of abscesses around his pupik. “Boils are stubborn things,” he railed, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they are the worst affliction on a political body!”

The time to eat supper finally arrived, a meal gracefully served by Miss Sally Hemings. Seldom has involuntary servitude appeared in so comely a package. ’Twas our misfortune, however, that the matzo balls were somewhat inelastic in their constitution, moving Ben Franklin to remonstrate, “The cannonballs of Bunker Hill were of a character considerably more malleable.”

After dinner, the children inspected the premises for the afikoman, which Lewis and Clark had hidden, as is their yearly custom. Such meshuggenahs those two are, endlessly engaging the children in mischievous activity. But after much time passed without discovery of the concealed yeastless morsel, the elders grew restive.

“Meriwether,” inquired Uncle Max, “where hast thee ensconced it? In the River of No Return?”

At long last, young Chana detected it beneath a copy of The Federalist Papers, receiving two coppers as reward for her acuity. She complained vociferously about the insufficiency of this recompense, but what had she been anticipating? The Louisiana Purchase?

As the hour was advanced and the oil was low in the lamps, we sang Chad Gadya, and thus ended our Seder.

Next year at my sister Millie’s in Richmond.

—Michael Kubin

At Thomas Jefferson’s Seder