When I first made aliyah a few decades ago, I would go “home” to London to celebrate Pesach with my family. We were celebrating the start of our journey as a people from Egypt, through the desert and on to the Promised Land. Never mind all that, I got on a plane and left the Promised Land.
From my point of view at that point, the exodus from Egypt was just the excuse for a festival. The real celebration was family time, the Seders, the familiar mismatched crockery, and the once-a-year foods — fruit compote for breakfast, matzah brei, copious amounts of matzah, butter and jam or cheese, plava, and the holy trinity of macaroons, coconut pyramids and cinnamon balls in the biscuit tin. Even the eggs in salt-water were a treat.
Pesach also meant an outing, a country ramble or a visit to a stately home, with a matzah picnic. The picnic had to include matzah sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, triangle cheeses, a packet of stale crisps, and some plava. What else was there?
After a few years in Israel, I started celebrating here with friends. It was lovely, but it wasn’t the same as being with my own family.
The tunes were different, the charoset was different, it wasn’t my father officiating, and worst of all, we were finished for another year after only one night. Seder was different with friends but not enough to make being in London a priority.
Then my daughter was born and everything changed. It was suddenly of paramount importance that she experience a family Seder.
It wasn’t just that I wanted her to experience a Selby Seder, it was just as much that she should have a family Pesach with her own family. I didn’t want her memories of Pesach as a child to be as guests at various other families’ Seders.
Thus we have returned to London every year except one since she was born nine years ago.
The Selby Seder moved to my sister’s house when my parents downsized, mingling with my brother-in-law’s family traditions.
It has evolved from the serious business of reading the Haggadah to a more informal and participatory affair interspersed with games and quizzes.
I remember being bored as a child, counting the pages until “Now partake of the repast”, timing how long a page took to read, and then mentally calculating what time we would be eating. In those days, it wasn’t much fun for the children between the
Four Questions and the meal. The songs at the end were always a highlight though, and they still are.
As I’m a single mother, it’s entirely up to me what we do and how we approach being Jewish in our home. I will never be one for following every detail of the law, I am more interested in the tradition and the essence of occasions.
Pesach is an enormous undertaking and I need to have good reasons for us to go to all the effort.
In order to do Pesach “properly”, we have to spring-clean our houses. I love this aspect of the holiday as it connects us to the season and to everyone else, Jewish or not, spring cleaning at this time of year.
I try not to buy processed food during the year so Pesach is a great opportunity to put one-ingredient shopping into strict practice and prove that we can eat a healthier, real food diet.
With age and maturity, I finally also acknowledge that we need to commemorate and celebrate the enormity of escaping from slavery; the fact that it led to us becoming a free nation with our own laws and our own land.
We lost that land for a long while but we got it back at an all-time low in Jewish history, after the Holocaust. We now know how much we absolutely need it. I particularly like it that, coincidently, Pesach falls just before Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). I see the connection and I celebrate it.
But Pesach for us means “next year in London.”
Rachel Selby blogs at www. midlifesinglemum.blogspot.co.uk/