Celebrating Seder

The time-honoured traditions of Pesach

'The seder is one of the most shared, rejoiced and celebrated rituals in Judaism'

Photo: Chernetskaya/Dreamstime.com
Photo: Chernetskaya/Dreamstime.com

Three years ago, I spent Pesach on my own in lockdown in Los Angeles. Two years ago, I spent it on my own in hotel quarantine. This year I was back with my sister-in-law, Mandy, and her extended family in Surfers Paradise.

Every family has its own set of distinctive seder rituals. In my family it ends with a packet of mass-produced cheap foam masks, sound effects finely tuned over the years, a great deal of jibing and jeering, and our own unmatched rendition of Chad Gadya, One Little Goat.

Although all the elements are the same, every Pesach seder is utterly unique. For this year’s seder, my nephew Brett sent a WhatsApp a week before assigning everyone a part. We were encouraged to be creative – but not break the rules of yom tov. Our seder started propitiously with Eitan welcoming us all with the kiddush.

Gadi taught us a game where the aim is just to be encouraging. Romy guided us through a meditation. Eden Lee spoke about “journey” and pointed out that although our seders have journeyed from Surfers Royale to Berkley on the Beach to The Dorchester (all in Surfers Paradise), fundamentally we have stayed the same by staying true to our values and loyal to our family. She also, in order not to disappoint her Jewish mother (the lesser-known 11th plague), read her part in Hebrew. So proud!

Amanda told a joke on reward and punishment. Daniel quizzed us on Jewish sports stars. Mishi spoke about mazal, it’s not just time – zman – and place – makom – but about working hard and putting effort into everything you do (reminding me of one of my favourite sayings, palma non sine pulvere – no success without effort).

Brett used text from the chumash to draw parallels with how we can lose our parlous freedom if we do not remain alert and vigilant to pernicious forces – the Jews’ descent into slavery in Egypt and Germany’s slide into fascism in the 1930s. Greg spoke about the theme of gratitude (Hallel), as did Ash (Dayenu), who added a new ritual to our seder.

Noam (a Bialik graduate) played Celebrity Heads with four of our Jewish day school graduates. The Mount Scopus graduate guessed he was Moses’ sister and then conceded, “I’ve got nothing.” The Moriah graduate guessed he was an animal plague and then conceded, “I’ve got nothing.” Luckily, we had a graduate that guessed he was matzah. Phew. (I couldn’t help but think that sitting on that sofa was the accumulation of 52 years of private Jewish day school fees! Totally worth it!)

Daniel’s part was the five rabbis and he decided, as he didn’t know anything about this, he would talk about the number five and his work. He spoke about the five principles that they assiduously adhere to on a mine to “get home safely”. He spoke eloquently and it was rather touching. After a round of applause and some “shkoyachs”, he quietly admitted, “Actually there are only four principles but … I had nothing.”

Michal received the brief while at work so drew equivalents between the Jews fleeing and wandering in the desert for 40 years, to her work which is finding safe accommodation for vulnerable people who are on the verge of homelessness.

I used my allotted time and the theme of slavery to share these facts. There are approximately 50 million slaves today, of which 10 million are children. There are approximately 15,000 slaves in Australia. There are more slaves today than any other time in history. Slavery is big business. I tried to evince that life isn’t about trivial and banal pursuits in order to satiate one’s every whim and desire, but about doing our best and living a connected life. I asked that we strive continuously for a world without poverty, slavery, inequality and prejudice and learn how to change our behaviour for the planet’s sake.

The seder is one of the most shared, rejoiced and celebrated rituals in Judaism as it is illuminates the things Jews hold most dear: memory, optimism, faith, education and mostly, family.

So, I hope you enjoyed your family’s Pesach seder with its idiosyncratic rituals, secret recipes and time-honoured traditions. I hope you added a mirabile dictu – a story that your family loves recounting year after year.

Next year in Jerusalem!

Tracey Schreier is an experienced educator and the former head of primary school at Moriah College.


read more: