From Where I Sit
By Dave Schechter | email@example.com
Growing up, I thought my father was singing “Albany” rather than “Ehl binei.” Well, Mom and Dad did briefly live in Albany (New York). The tune reminds me of Passover seders when I sat at the side, not at the head, of a table.
Dad’s Haggadah was filled with years of pencil markings and erasures, its reading as signments updated annually based on the company at the table. Seder ran on his timetable. We sang all of the traditional songs. His sleight of hand with the afikomen rarely failed. The admonition to finish before midnight was met, but some of the chairs were empty by the end.
He made “The Ballad of the Four Sons” — set to the tune of “Clementine” and written by an uncle of my sister-in-law the cantor, who is married to my brother the rabbi — a regular feature of the seder, a tradition that his children continue today.
We have hosted a Seder for most of the 22 years that we have lived in our current Atlanta home.
Some have been small, with one or two other families.
Some have been large, such as the one that required fitting three tables into our living room and using the couch (talk about reclining on this night).
Some have been unique, such as the Jewish-Muslim Seder a couple of years ago. Our rabbi sat next to a local imam. Some women wore kippot and others hijabs, and Jews and Muslims alike took turns reading and discussing the Exodus story.
Passover, of course, is a night of questions:
- “When Do We Eat?” (The 2005 movie by that name is a good laugh.)
- “Why don’t we eat charoset year-round?” (Good question.)
- “Why does Sephardic charoset taste better?” (Try it, you’ll understand.)
- “Clear or jellied broth?” (If you don’t understand, you don’t want any.)
- “Why do they call matzah the bread of affliction?” (Get back to me in a few days. Sorry.)
- “When is the next cup of wine?” (Usually asked by a preteen who thinks he’s getting away with something.)
- “Why is there an orange on the seder plate?” (This one requires a willingness to stretch beyond tradition.)
- “When will this be over?” (By midnight, trust me.)
One of my favorite seders was a large gathering we attended nearly 30 years ago outside the walls of the Old City in the home of an Israeli professor and his museum curator wife, the in-laws of a friend and colleague. “Next year in Jerusalem” sounded different that night.
That phrase may resonate strongly this year in France and other countries where anti-Semitism (often masked as anti-Zionism) has spiked. I recommend reading “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” by Jeffrey Goldberg in the April edition of The Atlantic (www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/03/is-it-time-for-the-jews-to-leave-europe/386279).
Aliyah (Hebrew for “going up”) to Israel reached a 10-year high in 2014. The 26,500 olim (new immigrants) were one-third more than in 2013. For the first time, France led the departure list with 7,500 emigrants, more than double the year before.
Last year, 3,185 Jews chose to make aliyah from the United States, up from 2,854 in 2013. This year, as we ponder the relevance of the ancient Passover story to our American lives, let us think about the European Jews who worry that a modern exodus from their homelands may become less of a choice and more of a necessity.
Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and the Middle East.