Urchatz

by Domenika Marzione

"--you'd want to--"

Yoni Safir pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "I have no especial desire to inflict my religious beliefs on two hundred people who have no vested interest. And I can't imagine any of the other Jews on the expedition are fighting for the privilege, either."

Elizabeth kept her expression -- a faint smile -- even. Yoni was reacting exactly as she'd expected him to, somewhere between put-upon and embarrassed, and the cumulative effect was a sort of barbed charm. Carson had refused to do more than paraphrase Yoni's initial reaction to being asked about a Passover seder in Atlantis, although she could guess most of it. Face to face, Yoni was animated and agitated, but stayed polite even as he very clearly wanted nothing to do with the scheme.

"Also, we have no matzoh."

"The Athosians produce a type of unleavened bread," she countered. Teyla, in fact, had been rather eager to contribute. "And they've certainly got enough variants on horseradish."

The Athosians did their best to hide their disappointment in the lack of spirituality found in the Ancestors' descendants, but the quickness with which they supported any religious endeavor spoke volumes -- this past Christmas had been more about Jesus and less about gifts than any one in her recent memory. She had once tried to explain to Halling that faith and mysticism were not foreign concepts to Earth, that most of their world believed in a higher being, that it was rather that the group chosen for the expedition was not properly representative of Earth's many belief systems. But the Athosians didn't understand the aggressive atheism that dominated Atlantis and they certainly didn't comprehend what seemed to them to be irreverence toward the Ancestors they worshiped.

"It's not the food," Yoni sighed. "It's... Pesach is about freedom from bondage. Forcing everyone else to observe a holiday that has no significance to them... It seems a little counterintuitive."

"When you put it like that, yes," she agreed. She had been looking at it as a parable for freedom from the Wraith, of course. "But it's also about setting out and looking for a new home."

"It took them forty years to find it," Yoni retorted. "Not exactly the message you want to send."

She fought back a laugh, but tilted her head to acknowledge the point.

She had already been asked about an Easter feast and it seemed unfair to agree to it without complementing a Christian festival with one from another faith. Passover was the closest one on the calendar and it seemed an obvious choice. Admittedly, when she had come up with the idea, her focus had been on the meal and what it entailed. A seder involved ritual foods and ritual words and a strong oral tradition that the Athosians could identify with, a story that was at least familiar to every member of the expedition, and a theme of deliverance that could be appreciated by everyone. But it was also simply a long meal where discussion was encouraged and she had seen it as a break and a chance to get everyone to relax a bit. The question was how such a move would be interpreted.

Yoni wasn't the most religiously observant member of the expedition. From what little she knew, he was somewhere in the middle, a compromise between tzitzis-wearing Duv Weissman and ham-eating April Greenberg, and that's why she had chosen to run the idea past him first. It was the 'past' part that was proving problematic. She'd thought that Yoni's greatest objection would be in his taking part in the organization of it, but she'd miscalculated.

"There will be a tremendous argument about the hagaddah -- the text," Yoni warned, frowning. "Only among the Jews here, there will be much disagreement before we settle on anything. Orthodox, conservative, reform -- I think Greenberg calls herself a 'reconstructionist', whatever the hell that is. How many times do we get to mention Hashem? In what terms? With what pronoun? Multiply that by fifteen to expand it to the general population. There will be resentment at you catering to such a small minority and then toss in the whole theme of the Jews as the Chosen People, which has historically gone over fantastically with just about everyone.

"Frankly, Dr. Weir, I fear that you are just inviting trouble. I speak for the other Jews here when I say that I don't want to have to spend the rest of my time here defending myself or the tenets of my faith. Personally, it requires more fervent belief than I am probably willing to give and it would be another distraction and source of strife. I make enough enemies as it is."

He said the last with a rueful smile and she returned it. He was making light of his own prickly personality, but behind it was a genuine concern. As an unspoken rule, politics were generally not discussed in Atlantis -- partially because they were moot while they were in another galaxy, but mostly to keep the peace. In practice, it was a willful obliviousness. The academics mostly swung far to the left, the military slightly to the right, and she understood that Yoni didn't want to bring Israel up in a religious context lest it also become a political one. There was a reason Iraq was a verboten topic, even as most of the marines had done a tour there.

"If you are insistent on the multiculti thing, then I suggest Purim or Sukkot or Shavuot or one of the minor festivals with an agrarian theme -- the Athosians were very eager to help go looking for fruits and nuts for Tu B'Shevat. We have many commemorations of our victories and our defeats and one of those might go over better as a symbolic reference to our fight against the Wraith. Here... what are we saying? That we are a cumulative Moses, come to sweep the Pegasus galaxy from servitude? Are we the nation of Israelites, true inheritors of the Ancients' domain? Is the ZPM the Decalogue or the Golden Calf?"

She opened her mouth to reply, but Yoni cut her off before she could say a word. Carson's warnings about letting Yoni get wound up came to mind.

"If it is simply a matter of a ritual meal," he said, "then by all means let us have a Shabbat for the masses, from candle lighting to candle lighting. I am sure that there will be a seder when the time comes -- Weissman has already started planning it -- and everyone involved will be happy to answer questions. But to make it compulsory? No matter what sort of compromise we come to with regard to the text, it's still hours of religion -- do you have any notion of how long a seder can take?

"At best, it becomes another theme night in the commissary with a lot of jokes about constipation instead of the alternative. At worst..."

Before she'd gotten involved with aliens and Ancients and stargates, she'd been in the foreign service. Diplomacy was as much about ceding gracefully as it was about sugarcoating pills before they were rammed down opponents' throats and here, she understood, the former was required. There was no point in doing this if it wasn't wanted.

"I appreciate the... cultural sensitivity. But it is not necessary and, in this instance, would probably cause more trouble than it would resolve."

She held up her hands in submission.

"Your points are well-considered, Dr. Safir," she said formally, forestalling his next words. "And I'll take them under advisement."

Yoni shut his mouth abruptly and nodded.

"Thank you," he replied. "If there is nothing else..." he trailed off, gesturing vaguely toward the open door of her office.

"There's nothing else," she said. "Unless you'd like to volunteer for the entertainment committee."

Yoni gave her such a flat, disbelieving stare that she couldn't help but smile. "I think I'd rather volunteer for kitchen duty."

"Do you cook?" She asked curiously. She'd known him for more than two years and yet knew surprisingly little about him. According to Carson, Yoni was inscrutable and perversely proud of the fact and she was inclined to agree.

"Not well."

"Then, please, feel free to go on with your day," she replied, letting her amusement color her voice.

Yoni bid her a good afternoon and departed and she was left with the tatters of her good intentions, although she did not feel the loss.


Urchatz = the first washing of the hands during the seder, the one that doesn't get accompanied by the blessing. Rachtzah is the second washing, where you do say the blessing.

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27 May, 2006