A visitor to Israel last night (Saturday, April 7, 2001) might have been puzzled by seeing the streets heavy with traffic, especially since it was already one o’clock in the morning. The reason was that last night was the first night of the annual week-long Passover festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago, and people were returning home after taking part in a Passover Seder (the ceremonial meal on the first night of Passover).
David and I were a part of the heavy traffic, having spent the evening celebrating at the home of the parents of our son Natan’s fiancée, Liat. Liat’s family included her parents, grandmother, two younger sisters (one of whom is married and was present with her husband and 3-month-old daughter, Liat’s parents’ first grandchild), and 10-year-old brother. Also around the table was the brother of Liat’s married sister’s husband, and the brother’s wife, as well as a guest.
Liat’s abba (father) conducted the Seder with much zest, at times shouting his enthusiasm for the story and causing his children to remind him that “Abba, we’re not deaf!” and “Abba, we’re here!” Abba continued proclaiming the ancient story undaunted by the commotion at the far end of the table caused by the cute antics of his new granddaughter, or by grandmother, who, impatient at the long ceremony, snacked on charoset (a mixture of chopped apples and nuts flavored with cinnamon and wine, which represents the mortar that the Israelites used to make bricks in Egypt) and small bits of matzah (unleavened crackers).
For young children, the highlight of any Seder is the search for the afikoman, a portion of the middle matzah of three matzot that are wrapped in a napkin and placed on the Seder table. This portion is usually hidden somewhere in the room by abba or imma (mother) near the beginning of the Seder. The search takes place near the end of the Seder—a custom instituted to keep small children awake throughout the long evening—and whoever finds the afikoman may ask abba for a prize (usually money). At our Seder, the afikoman was hidden by Liat’s imma, who hid it so well that eventually even abba and David joined in the search, opening drawers and cupboards and creating chaos, and drawing laughter from the other Seder participants.
In the end it was Liat’s little brother who found the afikoman and claimed the prize. With that, the Seder quickly concluded with more communal singing and the final course of the meal. Strawberries, a large Passover cake and unleavened cookies brought calm to the dinner table.
As we joined the post-midnight traffic for the 10-minute drive to our house, I closed my eyes and realized that in our 32 years of married life in Israel, this was the first time David and I had ever celebrated Passover with relatives.