The kosher Chinese Philadelphia coloring book Seder
I recently found a coloring book among lots of papers in old file folders I was sorting through, trying hard to get rid of stuff I no longer needed. And, no, it wasn’t one of those fancy adult coloring books that are all the rage now. It was one that I bought for 25 cents, one March, about 16 years ago. My kids were in their early teens 16 years ago, so it wasn’t theirs. It was mine.
When I was a teen, March was always one of the hardest months for me to actually make it to high school classes. Every month was bad—I really hated school—but March was probably the worst. But even on many of the days I skipped school, I often snuck into Heights High for 4th-period choir (which you could do back then, but can’t now). Especially in March, because that was the month we usually had spring break (or, as we used to call it, “Easter vacation”); and that was when the Heights Choir went on tour for a week, to different cities, to perform and see the sights.
Choir—and band and orchestra—tours were, and are, educational and a lot of fun. I went on two of them with the Heights Choir. The first was to New York City. Two years later, I was living in New York City, and working in the music business and touring with rock bands (rather than choirs).
Thirty-five years later, my son was a member of Heights High’s orchestra. Early in that school year, the Band and Orchestra Parents Organization asked—begged, actually—for a parent volunteer to head up the tour committee. I immediately volunteered, because I knew how to do that, having been a high school kid on tours and having done it in my professional life as well.
That year we took the orchestra to New York City. I served as one of the chaperones on the trip, too. Being a chaperone is nowhere near as much fun as being one of the kids. It’s kind of a 24-hour-a-day thing, with real responsibilities and work. It was a little educational, too. The main thing I learned is how easy it is to spot kids who are breaking the rules—as I did when I was one of those kids—while the kids really believe you can’t see them doing whatever it is they’re not supposed to be doing. Another thing I learned is how many food items most kids have never eaten or heard of—like, for just one example, mushrooms (really?), which were in one of the dishes we were served in a Chinatown restaurant.
The next year, I volunteered, again, to head the committee and chaperone the trip, this time to Philadelphia. The planning went smoothly, until—just a few weeks before our scheduled departure—I got a call from the school’s principal, Mr. Cipolletti (who, sadly, died just last month). He called to tell me the Board of Education had announced that we couldn’t go on tour, because the first night of Passover fell during that week. I told him that there were only about six Jewish kids out of the 100 or so going on tour, and that of those, maybe only three were practicing Jews. He said he knew that, but the Board was afraid to let it happen.
I said, “What if the Jewish kids’ parents sign a waiver saying it’s OK with them if their kids go?” He said that wouldn’t satisfy the board. I thought about it for a day and called him back. I said, “OK—what if I provide a Seder that night for the Jewish kids who want to participate?” He asked the board and they agreed to that, if the parents would sign a waiver.
I’m not a practicing Jew, but I was raised in that culture. I asked a rabbi friend what I would need to do to make it an official Seder. He said all you really had to do was to tell the Passover story. And have a few food items that are rituals in the service. And don’t eat any bread.
So I booked dinner for the group for that night in a kosher Chinese restaurant. And I went to Frank’s Hebrew Book Store to buy 10 Hagadot (the plural of Hagada, the book that is used at a Seder to tell the story). All of the Hagadot were too expensive for my budget. I wasn’t sure what to do. Until, on my way out, I spotted a stack of coloring books. Of the Passover story. For 25 cents each.
We were, apparently, ahead of our time.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.