March 29, 2020

Love at First Seder

The attraction was instant and made me very, very anxious.

Her father’s courtship of me was a month in progress when he invited me to a seder that she — his daughter — and other relatives would attend.

It felt too soon. In meeting a man’s family in the first trimester of a relationship, an attachment could form with folks I might not see again. Unmarried all my life, I’d had many starter relationships. Children I’d known for a few holidays left my sad lap as I disconnected from the guy who had put them in it. But my fun new friend and I already felt familial. I took the risk.

As we entered his favorite Aunt Sandy’s home, there she was: Ariana — sweet-faced like her father, wise for her years. She hugged me firmly, fully to her heart. I was instantly smitten. She introduced me to her fiance, Marc. My promising Passover escort left us and engaged with his cousins.

Marc was Ariana’s first love. He’d recently asked her father for her hand in marriage, then put a big diamond on it. I’d never had one and, awed at the many facets of her and hers, wondered what it was like to be betrothed and so secure at 23.

“What could I offer her beyond old show tunes?” was one of the Four Questions I asked myself that night.

These two had their heads firmly on their shoulders, unlike other young heads that tended to roll right off. She was getting her master’s in social work, he in engineering. They were smart, acculturated and, like me, musical theater lovers. She could sing in sweet soprano every lyric to every score of every contemporary musical. I sang back lyrics of musicals I’d learned at her age. Marc hummed along on them all. We three had so much to harmonize about that her father receded in my attentions … a little.

The rest of my date’s family was more reserved. Apparently, I was not the first nice Jewish “date” her father had brought to Passover for observation. They seated me across from Ariana, next to her dad. As we noshed on parsley, his uncle politely gave me a small portion of the haggadah to read, which I reworded to include the female perspective. Ariana liked that, and I liked that she liked it. Well-versed in gender politics, as we sipped kosher wine, she whispered of her wish to work with cisgender and transgender clients alike. Her knowledge of all the pronouns and proclivities amazed me. My focus on the bitter herbs faded as I took stock.

“Why is this seder different from all other seders?” I thought as I masticated the matzo. Because I now had a big maternal crush on my date’s daughter. My enchantment with her was now neck-and-neck with my held-in-check enchantment with her dad. I began thinking too far ahead. She certainly didn’t need my mothering. Her parents had done a fine job on all the heavy lifting. Ariana was loving, smart and as tall as I was; pulling her into my lap would be unwieldy. She wouldn’t need my relationship counseling, my long dating life littered with frogs and other plagues. “What could I offer her beyond old show tunes?” was one of the Four Questions I asked myself that night.

We harmonized a hearty “Go Down Moses,” and as we parted I felt a pang. I hoped to see her again but would have to hold myself back and hope her dad and I grew closer over time.

We did, and I soon also fell for his younger son, Sam, a manly 19. I got enthusiastically included in all the next big moments in Ariana’s life — her graduation, her receiving of awards, her next Passover, at which everyone now knew my name and gave me more haggadah to read and portions to eat.

It would have been enough, I thought, to meet this wonderful man, but I got to sing at Ariana’s wedding to Marc a year later. Dayenu.

When her father proposed to me the following Thanksgiving, I asked if his daughter would feel OK about it. “Are you kidding?” he said. “After the first Passover, she asked, ‘Please, Daddy? Can we keep this one?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ ”

So, I said “Yes” too. And as a seasoned bride, Ariana helped me plan for — and harmonized with me to show tunes at — my wedding to her dad two years later.

Melanie Chartoff has acted on Broadway and on TV series, and is the author of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.”