Sunday, April 12, 2009

A different night

If one is not religious and lives both geographically and spiritually some distance from the secular Jewish community, what is the point of taking part in the annual Pesach (Passover) Seders?

"It's for the kids!" my parents used to say. But what happens if you don't have kids?

"It brings the family together!" others say. But what if you don't have a family or are geographically or otherwise cut off from them?

I loved the Seders of my childhood. But as we got older and particularly after my mother died, they became more and more meaningless. (Which is kind of interesting given that my mum was an avoid atheist. But she was the glue that held our family together.)

My faith (if that is the right word) was restored this year when J & I were invited to a Seder with some family friends. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and, surprisingly, one of the most meaningful Seders of my life.

These friends were not religious. Far from it, in fact. But after their grandmother, who had been the religious glue of the family, passed on they had got together and decided that if they were going to have a Seder, it had to be the right Seder for them.

They use a Haggadah called A Different Night which intertwines dozens of fascinating articles and drawings which explore may of the issues raised by the story of Pesach, with a full traditional Orthodox Seder. They freely and apologetically skip the "boring bits" but add in their own quizzes and discussions and songs. There were plenty of laughs as we read the Marxist interpretation of the oppression of the Jewish slaves by the Egyptian pharaohs. But mostly there was a complete relaxation as we could just be who we were and discuss what we wanted without any stress or negativity or judgements.

There were no children (at 38 I was the youngest in attendance) but this didn't stop us playing "Pesach re-enactment" or my friend stealing the Afikomen from her father and demanding a DVD as ransom.

The following night my friend came to our house and we had a tiny 3-person Seder, followed by watching The Prince of Egypt animation.

It was not a traditional Seder. But it was certainly a different night.

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