It was my first exposure to a family that lives by Jewish laws of kosher and Sabbath. What strikes me looking back on the experience, though, is that this was not an evening of what was not allowed, but an evening to remember, discuss, and celebrate. Removing the distractions of phones, electronics, and other devices served to heighten the focus of the night--a night of freedom.
The invitation to the evening came from Laura, who clearly exhibits a gift of hospitality. We were not the only first-timers at this Seder meal, though I'm fairly certain we were the only non-Jews. 24 of us gathered in a circle in the living room for the pre-meal discussion. We started with the lighting of candles in honor or memory of someone, then a round of introductions with the question, "What makes you feel free?" Answers included sailing, hiking, eating, being at the ocean, and even visiting a prison.
Rabbi David, who came to the family business of spiritual leadership after an early career as a chef (this would become clear later), was at ease with his small and temporary congregation. The main events of the night were laid out by the Haggadah (the 13 steps of the Seder which must take place in order), but he was not bound by the words on the page. Rather, he encouraged any and all to ask questions, to comment, to share what this experience reminded them of in the bigger questions of freedom and slavery.
Their family celebrated a few traditions I'd not seen before:
- sitting on pillows on the ground (a Yemeni tradition)
- bringing out a plate of vegetables and dips after the first dipping of bitter herbs into salt water (brilliant idea, byt the way, to stave off hunger as it takes a very long time to get to the meal portion of the night)
- instead of eating a small corner of the afikoman (matzah), Rabbi David asked us to take at least half a sheet of matzah and to eat it in silence, imagining what it would be like to be in slavery and only have this dry, flat bread to eat
- During the singing of the Dayenu (the story of how if God had only done this one thing or that one thing, it would have been enough), we were given green onions to whack each other with. Another Yemeni tradition that broke up the evening, especially for the kids. Everyone was eager willing to take a swipe at friends and neighbors.
- The four children. I have seen this section of the Hagaddah before but skipped it in writing the one we use at home because I did not understand it. Turns out, a lot of people don't understand it. In this section of the Seder, we were asked to consider the four children: the simple, the wise, the wicked, and the one who doesn't know how to ask questions. I listened to the discussion and am still as clueless as before what purpose this part of the evening serves.