“It’s great,” my American cousin says as we settle down at the table for the Passover Seder. “So peaceful. The first time for so long to be sitting at a meal with no cellphones present.”
He’s right, there is a special quality to the evening, with no-one distracted by their phones. We’re in the middle of a long table. To our left the seven children, to our right the other adults. My brother is opposite me. At the other end, another table crosses our one where the patriarch and matriarch sit, with the host and hostess, facing the rest of us.
It’s lovely to be here. And as we recount the story of the exodus from Egypt, I’m struck by the bonding nature of our shared religion. On my right: my cousin who lives in Maryland and her husband, across from me their intense, serious seventeen year old – trying to impress the gathered adults with his insights into the Hebrew. And, I think, particularly trying to impress my brother who’s just trounced him at table tennis.
The younger children are sweet: a gang of cousins, giggling amongst themselves at shared family jokes. They’re just naughty enough: all still sitting at the table, participating. Their grandparents must be so proud, I think, and feel sad for a moment as I remember my grandfathers. When they were alive, hung out in a gang with all my cousins, at events similar to this one.
The second glass of wine arrives. There are four to get through. Wish Seb was here, I think. Wonder what he would think of the ritual of the Seder: the reading of the Haggadah. Hope he would be as fascinated by all of it as have always been myself.
It’s not just the story of the ten plagues, and the Exodus, although that’s the core of it – the action outlined in The Ten Commandments. Maybe will watch the film with Seb first to prepare him. There are tales of Rabbis recounting this story and their views on the customs of this night. It has a metatextual element: on this night we read tales of others reading the story of this night through the ages in different places and so on.
In England, traditional Seder food is chicken soup followed by roast chicken, red cabbage, roast potatoes and carrots. Here it has an Middle-Eastern flavour: lamb soup, babbaghanoush (aubergine dip) and salads. There’s a fantastic salad of grated apple and pineapple, bright orange sweet potatoes join the normal potatoes.
“What bit of the lamb is that?” Mum asks, gazing at the huge piece of meat that dominates the table.
“Leg,” my cousin’s girlfriend, our hostess, says. She’s gorgeous: waist-length hair, tiny frame, long legs encased in bejewelled short shorts.
“We can’t get that cut in England,” Mum says.
“Why not?” I say.
“Something about it being too difficult to remove the vein. They don’t have the expertise,” Mum says.
“Wow,” my brother says, as he tastes the meat. “This is fantastic.”
Chomping my chicory, radish and lettuce salad, I look around the table. It’s amazing that we’re here: my grandmother and the patriarch of this dynasty were second cousins. It seems such a tenuous link and yet here we are, so many years later, celebrating Passover with them in Israel.
It’s amazing: I think, how happy I feel at the moment. At long last I’m in a relationship with Seb, the love of my life. And here I am, celebrating the Seder in Israel with my parentals, brother and much-loved cousins. Fingers crossed I’m allowed to enjoy it for a while…
(Photo attached of statue on the beach reminding me of my Dad riding a bike)
*1956 film. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Rameses. A classic.