Where were you for the Seder? I know where I was…
Where were you for the Seder?
Holidays are very hard. As I get older and gain more experience, it becomes more apparent that they are hard on everybody, no matter what. If you are a guest then you are packing [no small feat and sometimes a kind of Exodus in and of itself] and hoping not to forget anything important that can really put a wrench in your time away from the comforts of your own home. You will be displaced and often far from privacy and have to abide by other rules. You will worry about giving the right gift and whether the host really liked it.
If you’re religious then being away for some holidays will require that you sleep over and that adds yet another element. You cannot make demands as a guest, yet if you end up not sleeping because you shared the children’s room or feeling out of place because you like to spend the time wearing a nice housecoat/robe/ house dress and your hosts and their children get fully dressed as though they are going places, even if they never leave their house, then after a while you feel that you would rather be at home. If the food is too sugary, too oily or not so fresh, you might pay the price for that. If you’re going to family there are always those family dynamics that begin with kisses, hugs and smiles and end up with an overdose of stress. Have I left anything out? Probably but these are the points that come to mind right now.
I missed my mother so much that one evening when I shut my eyes to nap, her image came to mind. I remember her eclectic menu that had everything from apio – celery root with carrot slices to many other things that made Passover special and joyous for us.
So…where were you for this year’s Seder?
My new experience
I had no firm plans this year. Great friends did invite me to distant cities and although I love them, riding buses for hours on end was prohibitive. I get off the bus with pain and numbness in my coccyx or what seems to be and it takes me a very long time to recover. I had someone who wanted to invite me in Jerusalem, my city but she couldn’t firm up her own plans until the last minute and to be honest, I just wanted to sleep in my own bed and care for my dog, without having to tell those who invite me “But I have a dog and she is not one to stay outside. If she stays outside, nobody in the neighborhood will get any sleep from her barking and crying.” I reasoned that I could read the Haggadah on my own; whip up the traditional symbols of roasted meat, a hard boiled egg, charoset, bitter herb, other vegetable such as celery, boiled potato, etc. for karpas and, since I’m not teaching any children the story, it’s no tragedy if I just do it by myself.
A very good man at work came up to me and said that he heard that I’m alone on the holiday, to which I replied in the affirmative. He told me that he would invite me, except that they themselves will not be at home for the holiday. He gave me a paper with a number, to phone Chabad of Gilo and register for a place in their seder. I promised that I would do this and phoned until Rabbi Farber answered. He told me that in order to register, I would have to go to the Center and pay a nominal fee. I dropped everything and rode with my friend Esty, who had other business in the same area.
When I arrived, the lights were on but the door was locked so I figured the good rabbi took a short break. There was a man who had waited for some minutes before me and eventually the rabbi came up the stairs and I registered. He also gave me a piece of paper with a description of where the Seder would be held, with the name of the street and the time. There was no precise address which seemed curious at the time.
Going to the Seder
Finishing touches and final tasks
This year I took two days off prior to the Seder so that I could finish cleaning my kitchen and changing over to bring the Pesach dishes down from where they are stored all year round. No matter how much I simplify and oversimplify this process in my mind, the reality always seems to growl at me. My refrigerator and freezer alone is quite a project. My stove and oven are surprisingly easier than my refrigerator, which I take apart and put all the shelves into the sink with water and bleach. At my age, this work is much more exhausting than in the past and I tire more easily.
The past few years, I have worked through the night and didn’t get to sleep until 6:00 AM and unfortunately, this year was no exception. Note – this tradition is for the birds and I am determined to make some changes to prevent this in future. As I worked, at this point beyond exhaustion, instead of grumbling which I did in many past years, I kept thanking Hashem for giving me the strength and asked for more strength to do this amazing mitzvah and get to this phenomenal holiday.
Realizing I was going to the Seder but still had to have a meal the following mid-morning, I quickly and efficiently threw a soup together and once it boiled for a sufficient amount of time, shut the flame and transferred the pot onto my Shabbat Hot Plate
I worked until the last minute but was more organized this year, so I lit candles and showered and got dressed. I wore a black strapless “under dress” with a long sleeved black top with wine colored trim at the pocket and button holes with matching buttons – giving an understated but elegant touch to a semi formal/casual atmosphere. I applied soft makeup and Red Door perfume. I then set out to find the place where the Seder was to be held. This was not as simple as might seem and here I learned why there was no precise address on that piece of paper.
Walking to the Passover Seder
The walk up to the UpTown shopping center across from which was the path to the Seder was not easy and I noticed I was breathing hard and that my mouth was very dry from long hours of constant work and not enough drinking. At times I felt I was not walking straight and even feared I might stumble due to muscle fatigue. I remember hearing the rabbi repeatedly say to find an asphalt road. Let me tell you, it’s good he said it because two steps to the right of that were steps leading down to a nicely lit street, which was far more tempting than this bare, deserted, relatively dark, asphalt path.
G-d sent an angel in the form of a lone young man walking in my direction. I asked him whether he knew where the Chabad seder was being conducted, to which he said he wasn’t sure but he did see many people and that I should follow this path. I did and again reached a place where one could go left, straight or to the right and yet another young man appeared in my path whom I again asked whether he knew where the Chabad seder was to be held. He said there were a bunch of people there and pointed me in the right direction. There was a synagogue and many people were standing outside, about to go home after prayers. Someone told me the Chabad seder was being held on an entirely different street and that I would have to go back from where I had come and go entirely around. Sorry to say but you KNOW it was a man – they never admit they don’t know something! I asserted that it was not on “Yefe Rom” street but rather on “HaTe’ena” and that the rabbi specifically said that there was an Ashkenazi synagogue followed by a Sefardic temple and that the Seder would be held under the Sefardic temple. The man replied “This is HaTe’ena.”
I then saw a family and asked the WOMAN if there was a Sefardic temple, since this Ashkenazi synagogue was self contained in a courtyard. She directed me to ascending stairs and after I climbed them, to the right, I saw the Sefardic synagogue.
Finally signs also appeared with arrows affixed to various places, including trees, off the beaten path. Lehavdil, these reminded me of the low men in Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis. The plot seemed to thicken and this exhausted woman continued to follow the signs in the direction of the arrows until the Sefardic temple appeared. The rabbi had said it was below the Sefardic temple so I looked for stairs or some indication to where this might be.
At 7:55 PM, still following the signs, finally there was an incline leading down alongside the temple building and then a few stairs, after which there was a door and, lo and behold, the hall with long tables set with disposable plates and utensils. I didn’t have to give any password but a tall young married woman holding an infant approached me with a warm smile. She asked my name and I told her. She welcomed me and invited me to take a Haggadah and said that I was welcome to sit wherever I wanted. I sat at the center table where there were already two women seated, who looked like a mother and aging daughter. The place was strangely empty and I wondered why all the fuss about registering and why so many places were set when there were so few that attended. I took a Haggadah and sat quietly, smiling at the two women already seated. The young Rabbi Yossi Farber (some ultra orthodox and hassidim do serve in the army!) from Nazareth Illit and his brother from Betar Illit honored us by conducting the Seder. Yossi introduced himself and his brother. The two with their wives and children sat at a head table, placed perpendicular to the other tables and Yossi began to address the few that had arrived and said we would wait for some who were not punctual. At some point I mentioned that it is possible that people had a difficult time finding the place.
Three men arrived and took their places at a table along the far wall directly across from me. At the table between us sat two women, each with three small children in tow. At the table behind me sat two young families. The last to arrive were a couple, the man whom I recognized as the one waiting ahead of me to register at the Chabad Center in Gilo. At this point I will say that the acoustics in that particular hall were very challenging. If one exhaled too loudly, it echoed.
The two women I mentioned wore skinny jeans but long sleaved tops. They are obviously weak parents who cannot control their children and the children evidently never go anywhere and do not know how to behave in any civilized manner. The two mothers looked like they were about to collapse from all the pre-holiday cleaning and preparations. These children must run on batteries – they did not stop for one minute – they made so much noise that it was difficult to hear the young rabbi who was bringing the story of the Jews’ release from bondage in ancient Egypt, to life. He had a lot of patience, having young children of his own but even he at some point asked the parents to control their children. The children were in perpetual motion climbing on and off the plastic chairs and at some point running up and down the breadth of the room, stomping on a cardboard box that had contained bottles of soft drinks, completely flattening it and sliding on it across the floor.
At some point, even these two obtuse single mothers felt embarrassed and once the food was served, wanted to leave once the main course was eaten noisily. The rabbi magnanimously told them that if they would stay, they could have pineapple for dessert. The women stayed and once the pineapple slices were consumed, they packed all their kids and left. At this point I want to say that the two mothers are to be commended for taking these children to a place where they would hear and have a proper Seder. One never knows how deeply these childhood experiences penetrate the soul and recesses of one’s mind.
After the months that preceded my grandson’s death at age 7 1/2 weeks, it was good for me to be around children, even if they were not my own.
The food was abundant and had a definite homey quality. There were salads, an assortment of fish that included St. Peter’s fish/Amnon/Musht, the main course of potato kugel, roasted baby potatoes, tzimmes, roast beef and roast chicken with offers of plenty more helpings for whomever wanted. After all of that, cool slices of pineapple gave just the right perk to the palate. There was an abundant supply of soft drinks and when I asked for water, a pitcher of cool water was placed on our table.
We ate the afikoman and recited the grace after the meal. It was done with decorum and the rabbi’s welcoming demeanor and positive disposition never faltered. In spite of four glasses of semi dry white Emerald Risling wine, I was not drunk.
The Farber brothers offered food to anyone who wanted to take some home. I approached one of the wives and said I would love some of the fish. They insisted I take food if I wanted so I took some kugel, roasted baby potatoes and chicken. I could not believe my good fortune. Here I had planned just gefilte fish from a jar with jarred horseradish and my homemade soup and suddenly I had an entire meal that would have taken several more hours to prepare, which I had not.
The Walk Home
The walk home was happy, though for the most part I was alone on that asphalt path and even on the street, as many people were still at their Seders. I made it home at about 10 minutes before midnight and then paid attention to Pnina Rosenblum, my beloved pooch.
The Story of Passover
This short story of my experience this year is admittedly long. It is my personal Haggadah of my exodus from Egypt this year. I wish all those who celebrate a happy and kosher Passover!