Even the matzah is different

By David Robson, April 21, 2011
Follow The JC on Twitter

We always had two Seders at home, the second rather shorter than the first. It was my parents, my brothers and me - a small affair.

Why is this night different now? Because everything is different, including the matzah. No longer just your bog-standard Rakusen's or Bonn's - the bread of affliction - now it's egg matzah or wheat matzah or grape matzah or even chocolate matzah - the bread of addiction.

And no longer am I just among Israelites, though not for want of trying. My table on Monday evening was proof of the challenge I face these days. Call it Catch 20-Jew: the catch is that Jews either have a Seder they always go to and are duty-bound to attend or else they are Seder-phobic and ten plagues wouldn't get them to come.

As the widower of a non-Jewish wife with two fractionally Jewish children (you can do the maths), I find myself picking guests in much the same way as Ireland picks its football team: one Jewish grandparent gets you in, or even a grandparent who somebody once said was Jewish. And failing that, anything goes. Jews were a clear minority at my table on the night - but isn't that rather Jewish? After all, we're always a minority.

I give the answer a left-wing Jewish friend gave me earlier

Anyway, the thing about non-Jews is they're much more appreciative. Us lot have been going through the motions since we were three years old but to them it was all brilliant new stuff. Admittedly we didn't do too well on the songs - anyone can manage a chorus of dayenus but my solo version of Chad Gadya, whilst appropriately tragic, was more of an annual BUPA lung-capacity check-up than a communal effort.

Having gone through the story of the Exodus, much of it in English with paragraphs in Hebrew to add atmosphere and authenticity ( everyone thought it was a great story), I ask the question "why does Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah say it should be recounted every evening?" and I give the answer a left-wing Jewish friend gave me when left-wing Jews came to Seder: "Because it's a paradigmatic liberationist document."

That's an answer you can't argue with. Either you don't understand or you know it's true.

But other things I did withold. For instance, in the Ma Nishtana, the wise son and the wicked son have everything in common - in the Hebrew, both talk about 'you' ("What are these law...the Lord commanded you?" and "what is this ceremony to you?") but in the English translation in my Haggadah, the wise son's "you" is falsely translated as "us" to make him look good, and the wicked son's "you" is correctly translated as "you" so he looks bad.

Since this isn't pointed out to Jewish children in order to spare them confusion, I'm damned if I'm going to point it out to non-Jews.

Anyway, it all passed off very well. Surround yourself with people who find bitter herbs and hard-boiled eggs in salt water a novelty and you are half way to the promised land.

    Last updated: 10:45am, April 21 2011