Today as I spend the day preparing for the Passover Seder I remember the many Seders which I attended as a child, a guest and a host.
My mother had 3 brothers and two of them lived in a kibbutz; when her own mother, my grandmother, was ill she asked her children to keep on getting together for the two main Jewish holidays: Passover and Rosh Hashana. So our family spent those holidays in one kibbutz and the other brothers in a second kibbutz. In the kibbutz holidays are celebrated in a communal dinner of about 400 people. I always disliked those occasions in which the Passover Haggada was replaced with the kibbutz's own spring Haggada and the food never tasted right.
I was very happy when I got the measles and my family had to stay home and could not go to the Kibbutz for the Seder. This was the happiest Seder of my childhood: my mother made our favorite food, we read some portions from the regular Haggada, and best of all, it was just the four of us –my parents, my brother and I.
The Jewish people call any place outside Israel “a diaspora” and there they celebrate the holidays twice. One year, when we lived in the States we arranged with another family with small children to celebrate the two Seders together. We were supposed to celebrate the first Seder at our place and the second night at their's. Unfortunately on that first night my kitchen drain got plugged. I was very uncomfortable as I told my friend that we had to do the first Seder at their home. My friend, a good woman, was not very happy, she did not like her plans changed. I felt very guilty, and it was a strained evening in which we read the Haggada in in a foreign language and heard familiar Hebrew songs sung with unfamiliar melodies. When we came home that night my two year old daughter said “we didn’t have any Seder: the songs and the language were wrong”. I spent the next hour reading and singing to her, in Hebrew parts of the Haggada. After that night we only celebrated the first Seder at home in Hebrew.
Our Seders became much happier when we returned to Israel and could celebrate with my parents and my brother and family. Our children became expert at finding the Afikoman(the mazzo that the head of the household hides for the children to find, and rewards them with gifts) which my husband hid.
As the girls grew older my husband decided that the Haggada was no longer relevant. He claimed that it was a ridiculous text and he felt silly reading it. He was right of course, by itself the text doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t tell the story of the Exodus, rather it is a collection of songs, interpretations, different customs and anecdotes. In order to appreciate it you have to learn a lot and even then it is quite obscure. So from that time on we prepared all the symbolic food for the Seder meal, we sang the songs and followed the customs but we never read the Haggada anymore.
Yet being post- modern has its price, I feel that in spite of the preparations and the anticipation an Haggadaless Seder has made the holiday somewhat disappointing.
My partner asked me the other day “how about reintroducing some of the highlights of the Haggada?” I hope my husband who is looking down from above forgives my transgression, but I seriously consider doing it.