Americans have a penchant for making lists and imagining scrupulously constructed alternate realities in which we, the individual Americans, play a central role. Dungeons and Dragons comes to mind, as does Fantasy Football. Not to mention the List of Five popularized by Friends. Which is the closest I can come to an explanation for the fact that if you were to look closely at the insides of my brain you would find—tucked behind all the other bric-à-brac—my Fantasy Seder List. Because (apparently) being an egghead who likes a good Ottoman joke isn’t quite nerdy enough.
The rules undergirding the Fantasy Seder are as simple as they are few: to make it in the imaginary door, the potential guest has to be 1) Jewish (duh); 2) alive (double duh); and 3) a complete stranger to me (this is why we call it “a fantasy” and not “an actual guest list”).Jon Stewart.
I figured I should just get that out of the way, because of course Jon Stewart. I’m an American Jew of a decidedly liberal bent with delusions of low-brow intellectualism. Of course Jon Stewart. The only reason he’s not on my List of Five is because I’m afraid I’d fall in love, and then where would my marriage be? Fantasy Seder it is.
And if Jon Stewart, then Adam Sandler. Sandler and Stewart go way back, and it’s always nice when people have friends at a party!
Now, I will confess that there exists a not inconsiderable handful of Sandler movies of which I am… not a fan. But I did like Zohan and Fifty First Dates, and I loved Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People—but more importantly, every time I see him interviewed, I’m impressed with one very simple fact: Adam Sandler is a mensch. It oozes from his pores, you can see it plain as day. I think he’d be ferrying food to the table, and trying to help ease my nerves. And I’d be apologizing awkwardly for admitting in public that I’m not a huge fan of some of his movies, because frankly, that wasn’t very nice of me.
Here the list grows a little more random: Peter Himmelman—semi-obscure rocker with a decades-spanning career, scorer of popular TV shows such as Bones and Men in Trees, Grammy-nominated children’s performer, son-in-law to Bob Dylan (yes, really), and Orthodox-ish. Himmelman is very, very invited. According to one of my favorite radio DJs of all time (Terri Hemmert, WXRT-Chicago, not Jewish, so not invited), he’s a fascinating conversationalist who’s as likely to talk about philosophy and theology as he is about rock n’ roll or his kids. Heck, I’d even have the event catered for him, as I suspect my Conservative Movement kitchen might not be kosher enough.
The Gyllenhaal siblings are also a shoo-in, though I fear I would jibber and jabber—and possibly giggle—over Jake. Given that I presume my husband will also be attending (not to mention Jon Stewart), fingers crossed that I keep that in check. And Maggie—the presence of Jake’s way-too-cool-for-the-likes-of-me sister might also impose a certain respectability. One can only hope.
And oh, oh! Barney Frank! Totally! I would feel not nearly smart enough to talk with him directly, but I would love to hear him chatting with, say, Peter Himmelman. Or with Jack Black! Who is, of course, also invited. Can you imagine Barney Frank and Jack Black conversating over the haroset? Dude. To be a fly on that wall!
And you know Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan will have their invitations printed on the good stationary—but I don’t think I’d let them sit next to each other. Or next to Barney Frank. They’d start talking about the other Justices, or get going on D.C. insider-baseball, and we’d all be like, “What up Elena, Barney, and Ruth Bader? Talk with the rest of the class!” No, we’ll have to scatter the Washington types amongst the entertainers. I’ll make a note.
Finally, Terry Gross. First of all, she knows everything but is utterly charming about it. Second of all, she really, really likes musicals. Third of all, if there’s anyone on earth who could keep a conversation going among such an odd group of weirdly gathered individuals, you know it would be her.
And there’s your minyan! Mind you, my family and I round the number up to 14, which is neither round nor has any meaning in our religious tradition, but whatevs. If I can get Jon, Adam, Peter, Maggie, Jake, Barney, Jack, Elena, Ruth, and Terry to come to my house? I’ll deal with it.