For those of you of a different faith, here is a brief description of the Passover Seder Night. First you have to realise that this is the biggest family occasion of the year. People who keep nothing else find some sort of seder to attend (even if it's just dinner with friends and/or family). It's the equivalent of Christmas dinner with the mass, nativity play and carol service all at the table.
You start by retelling the story of the Exodus with set questions and responses, songs, and symbollic bites of food each with its own blessing and explanation. For example, we dip a vegetable in salt water to symbolise the tears of the slaves in Egypt, we eat a nutty paste that reminds us of the cement the Israelite slaves used to build the pyramids and sticks of horseradish emphasise the hardship. Then you have a festive meal followed by a lively sing-along of songs related to the story. It can, and usually does, go on until after midnight.
When I first came to Israel I usually went back to my family in London for this holiday. A bit ironic - my ancestors walked forty years in the desert to get here and I mark the occasion by leaving. So, after a few years I started celebrating here with good friends. As you know, everything changes when there are children involved and, for the past two years I have taken DD back to my family. This was partly because they wanted to see her and partly because I went all mushy and nostalgic for my own family's Seder Night after giving birth.
Now that DD is two it has suddenly become twice as expensive for us to travel by air. So I decided to stay here. I had a number of invitations - all from very dear friends. I very much wanted to be at a seder but my instincts told me that it would be a disaster. I don't take DD out in the evenings as she won't nap, gets cranky and needs to go to bed by 9pm at the latest. Of course you can't admit that you didn't go to seder - it would be tantamount to saying you don't believe in God. I half joked that I would tell everyone I was going somewhere else and just stay at home with a matza sandwich. But this didn't really sit well with me either.
In the end I accepted an invitation from one of my oldest friends and his family (If you read: What me worry? A midlife view of the Mideast, that's my friend David) who live 10 minutes walk away. I told them that when we have to leave we have to leave - even if we don't make it as far as the dinner. I was joking but you cannot plan for a two-year-old so I wanted to cover myself for any rudeness on the night.
It's a lot of work preparing a seder and I did not want to simply turn up without making a contribution. So I brought two bottles of wine and one bottle of grape juice (the seder calls for four cups of either of the above per person), and I made a large fruit salad for dessert delivered in a new container as a gift for my hostess. (I know you will read this David and Minda - please note that I do not begrudge the wine and salad, it's just part of the story.)
At the table were David, his wife Minda and four teenagers, and another family with two teenagers. We came prepared with puzzles and picture books but DD was cranky before we even started. "I'm going to take her for a walk around the block to get her to sleep in the buggy," I said. David suggested I at least stay for the opening blessing and then go. By the time we left the house, only ten minutes later, no one was sorry to see us go.
So we walked the streets for an hour. DD chatted the whole way, giving me a running commentary of all the points of interest en route: car, cat, tree, park, car, steps, car, etc... As we passed David's house for the fourth time, he emerged to tell me that they had reached the meal part of the seder. We went in to eat and DD enjoyed her chicken soup, chicken and fruit salad. Then the tiredness hit her again, she started to rub her eyes furiously and I could see meltdown on the horizon. I excused us and we left before the end of the meal and before the concluding sing-along.
So I've made up this joke: What do you call Seder Night without the seder? Dinner. And I've made a mental note to go with my instincts in future. I signed up for this so it's not a surprise that some things have to be put on hold for a year or so, even something as important as Seder Night. And to David and Minda - thank you for a lovely dinner, I'm sorry we were so semi-detatched.