We were in Toronto for a few days. We spent some time with Dani's family, helped an outlaw (spouse of an inlaw) buy a computer, saw a show I might review later (Billy Elliot), visited a textile museum, and went to the two seders. This post is mostly about the seders.
But first: on the way up it rained the whole way, except that it was sunny in Erie. That's just Wrong. Bad weather is centered in Erie; it's one of the laws of the universe. :-)
Dani's family does not, near as I can tell, include any believers, which certainly affects the seders. Both went better than I expected given past experience; the first night was the best seder I've attended in Toronto.
The first night was with Dani's father's family. The leader started out
quickly, skipping chunks of the haggadah at will. Someone else at the table
(I don't have the standing so I'm glad someone else brought it up...)
got him to slow down and share the reading. I was, fortuitiously, sitting next
to him, so when no objection had been lodged in the split-second after this
request was made, I started reading right where he'd left off. Then the
reading passed along in a fairly orderly fashion for a while, with no skips
for a while. People read pretty quickly and didn't stop for discussion, but
they read. The children present were very well-behaved, which helped.
We were using a mainstream, normal, and good haggadah -- the yellow one from Ktav. (I should procure a copy, if only to have a no-frills normative edition that isn't from Artscroll.)
The reading came back around just as the haggadah hit what the family calls "the rabbis", a few paragraphs of talmudic excerpt analyzing the number of plagues that afflicted Egypt. Someone sitting nearby quietly said "turn the page" but the leader either didn't hear or didn't heed, so we were off. (I happen to like this part, even if I don't understand R. Eliezer's position, but I would never lobby for it in that crowd.) We got to b'tzeit Yisrael and I, less reticent by this point, just started to sing it, knowing that at least Dani and his sister would join in. (Historically it has been difficult to make singing happen at this seder.) We still skipped a bunch of stuff in the first half, and per tradition didn't do the second half at all, but it was better than it usually is for me.
And then there was a nice bonus. For logistical reasons the meal was served buffet-style from the kitchen table, and come dessert time everybody was standing around that table noshing and talking. This meant that I could go back into the dining room, snag a haggadah and wine, and do the second part of the haggadah without offending anybody. (I think two people noticed, one of them Dani.) Not knowing how much time I would have I did the short birkat and abridged hallel some, but for once I was able to do them. Nice.
The second night was with Dani's mother, Dani's sister and her family, and two friends of my mother-in-law. There was more singing and we even got some discussion going, particularly when Dani's oldest niece pointed out that both the wise child and the wicked child say "you" instead of "us", so why do we dump on the wicked child so much? I then noticed that the wise child first refers to "our God" and then asks his "you" question; I think that makes a difference but I don't know if that's the generally-accepted answer. Note that we only had this conversation because we -- uncharacteristically -- read the Hebrew and then I suggested we translate. (The haggadah didn't include a translation; it only offers that horrid Clementine song.)
We also read more text in Hebrew this year than usual. One of the guests (maybe both) is fluent, so they gave him parts to read. Dani and his sister are near-fluent, so they read some. You don't actually need to be fluent to read out loud, so I read some. (I did understand a fair bit of what I was reading, it being a constrained text.) Reading in Hebrew when not everybody is fluent naturally leads to on-the-fly translation and discussion of same, so I think I will encourage this practice in the future. (This haggadah includes very little Hebrew, but there's no reason not to do everything it does include.) I realized, and confirmed later with Dani, that of the ten people there, I was the second-least-fluent; everybody else save one can at least understand straightforward text and converse. So why don't we take advantage of that? I don't think it's deference to me (and I wouldn't want that anyway). The last person isn't going to engage no matter what language we do things in (this person doesn't care for seders or religion but gets dragged along), so there's no point in deferring to that person.
We experienced good hospitality on this trip. My sister-in-law and her husband have always been happy to have us, and this year I found that they had laid in a supply of Diet Coke in anticipation. :-) ("Um, we couldn't remember if you take it with caffeine..." "Caffeine is the point of the exercise." "Oh good, we got it right.") My mother-in-law went to the effort to procure kosher meat for me (no one else cares), which was a nice surprise. The hosts of the first seder, about whom I didn't have clear memories from their previous turn, were gracious and easy-going even with 20+ people invading their home. :-)
We saw something interesting in their home, by the way. They had recently returned from travel overseas (I didn't catch where) and had brought back a painting. It was a reasonable journeyman-grade picture of a vase of flowers -- unremarkable, until you learn that it was painted by an elephant. :-) They told us that they had a painting done by an elephant and I was imagining abstract art, but no -- somebody has trained some elephants to do specific classes of paintings. (Different elephants did different ones, as I understand it.) They watched their painting being painted. (A human has to dip the brush in the paint and put it in the elephant's trunk.) "Their" elephant is four years old, which led to the expected comments about child labor.