Walking down Western Road in Central Brighton on a Friday night often attracts surprised looks, as revellers are taken aback by the sight of a bearded rabbi clad in black, usually flanked by a few Kippah-wearing guests. To me, the surprised looks are not unusual. In fact, I often get similar astonishment from residents of my home community in Stamford Hill, when they learn that I live and work in Brighton.
Although Brighton is only 50 odd miles south of ‘home’, Passover in Brighton is worlds apart from the experience I had when I was growing up at home. That’s not to say that the rituals or meaning have been altered, on the contrary, to me things are very much the same, yet altogether different at the same time. At my father’s Seder table, one could not help but notice my father’s passion for education, as he engaged us kids in lengthy conversation about the slavery and exodus. Time stood still at those Seders, and I often find myself wandering down memory lane, as I picture my late Bubba expertly pouring the contents of Elijah’s cup back into the wine decanter. The ritual, accompanied by a moving melody, was often held somewhere between three and four in the morning.
In Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by 100 Israeli backpackers, Seder night was vastly different. I was studying in Melbourne in the late 1990s, and spent two Pesachs leading Seders in Auckland where wine flowed quicker than the pace the text was read; the Matzah was downed between chatter about skiing, bungee jumping and upcoming trips to India or Thailand.
Today I’m the father, but blessed to be surrounded by more than just my biological children; students and young adults also look to me for insight and inspiration. Gone are the long hours of discussion; gone are the many minutes of carefully analyses, both of text and of detail. But the soul of the evening remains intact. The spirit, the song, the joy and the essence of the evening, expressed both in the meaning and significance of freedom, as well in the simple act of consuming the Matzah, reveal the very core of what the evening represents for Jewish people the world over.
A trip across the globe, combined with the memories of Seder night at home, inspire me each Pesach to impart the lessons taught to me by my father, albeit greatly condensed, to the participants at our Seder in Brighton. And even if the guests are gone and we’re already fast asleep while in Stamford Hill my mother has just started serving the soup, the core meaning of the evening, its experiences and its joys remain the same.