November 19, 2018

300 ways to make it a multi-cultural seder

In this silent video excerpt from the book/dvd/cd combo ‘300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions’ Marla Berkowitz explains new signs for Matzoh and Passover and then asks the Four Questions in American Sign Language (ASL).

Fu san ede a neti disi de difrenti fu tra neti?

That means, “Why is this night different from all other nights,” in Sranan.

But what’s Sranan, you ask? Sranan is the primary language spoken in South America’s Suriname, which has one of the oldest Jewish populations on the American continent. Is is also spoken in Aruba, Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles — with a total of 426,400 speakers today.

Who knows if anyone there is really saying the Mah Nishtana there or in those countries, but that’s what’s so delightful about Murray Spiegel and Rickey Stein’s new book, “300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions: From Zulu to Abkhaz (Spiegel & Stein). Subtitled, “An Extraordinary Survey of the World’s Languages Through the Prism of the Haggaddah” each page lists the Four questions in its original language — sometimes which must be transliterated to the English alphabet, a note about the translator, and a note about the language — how many speakers, its ranking in the world, a pronunciation key and a picture of the place. The song can be heard on the accompanying CD as well.

“From my earliest childhood memories, I know I’ve always loved Passover. It was a joyous tiem when the entire extended family came together, from guests whose names I never embered from farway towns, to my favorite cousins,” Spiegel writes in the introduction. When he later began making his own seders in graduate school, he started adding recordings of people doing odd version fo the Four questions, like Ladino, Spanish and a Hebrew Donald Duck.”

Stein was fascinated with languages too, inspired by his Russian grandfather who had known a number of languages and dialects, having worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Company across Europe before he’d emigrated to the United States. In 1972 he attended a seder where people said the Four Questions in Foreign languages. “What a great idea,” I thought. “Everyone enjoyed doing or hearing the questions done this way.”

Who wouldn’t enjoy hearing the Four Questions said in a completely foreign language – not Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and French, which are foreign but not as strange as Mapudungun, a language spoken by 300,000 primarily in Chile, and also Argentina; or in Yorbuba, which is also called Yooba and Yariba, one of the four official languages of Nigeria. There’s also nonsensical languages such as our very own Valley Girl and Pig Latin.

Why is this night different from all other (seder) nights? Because we’re hearing a different version of the Four Questions.

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