Sunday, May 01, 2005

Northland Seder

Oy vey! Because I am a glutton for punishment, or actually just a glutton, I managed to attend three Passover seders (ritual dinners) this week. (I have briefly enumerated the Wellington ones in another posting). Last night was my introduction to the Northland Jewish Association over matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). It reminded me a little of Hamilton's community seders when I was younger and the Hamilton Jewish community was much much smaller.

About 36 people came from all over Northland, some driving quite long distances to be in Whangarei for the final night of Passover. With only a couple of exceptions (including me) they were either families with young children or much older folk. All were friendly and welcoming, though I was a bit taken aback by how comfortable several were in asking about my marital status within seconds of our introduction (none of your business either).

The inevitable problem in such gatherings of diverse, secular, diaspora Jews is what tunes to sing for the required songs. An ingenious approach was to play recordings for us to sing along with, karaoke style. Unfortunately the recordings were unfamiliar, though highly enjoyable, contemporary arrangements that didn't make our singing any less ragged. Fortunately I had had plenty of singing practice earlier in the week and was more confident about carrying a tune than usual (those who have heard me singing might not think it a good thing for me to feel confident about it).

The hagadah (order of service) was admirably concise for a gathering with so many young children, who had rehearsed to sing the four questions and tell a funny version of the Egypt story. Through out the rituals there was much hilarity as a trio of women leapt up at intervals to sing silly seder songs.

Asi, who was leading the service, kept asking me how I thought this compared to a traditional seder, but the truth is I don't know that I have ever attended a 'traditional' seder. Each of the several dozen in my life that I remember has been a quirky expression of that family's or community's relationship to Judaism. I once found a very camp hagadah on the internet, full of references to classic Hollywood movies and highly unsuitable for young children- and because that year I was expecting a gay couple and no kids, I used it. One of the many things I love about being a Jew is that there is a tradition of challenging orthodoxy and experimentation. As long as there are the makings of a Hillel sandwich (yummy apple and nut paste with horseradish and matzah- a taste that probably needs to be aquired young), at least four glasses of blessed wine and plenty of dipping, I'm happy.

The Northland seder covered the necessary halachical (religious law) bases yet was as relaxed, and playful, as most I have attended. I ate too much, enjoyed myself very much and made some new friends... nothing more could be asked. Chag sameach.

** While writing this post I glanced out my window to see a flock of 8 pukeko highstepping across my lawn!

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