PESACH IS on the horizon and, as always, it surprises me by its swift arrival. Approaching the early foothills of middle age, I am amazed by how quickly time flies. It appears not so long ago that we and a bevy of cousins were on our way to aunts and uncles on Seder night. Now it is we who are the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Our younger family, namely the grandchildren, are very much aware of the Passover story and have learnt songs which send me rushing to the computer to download the words.
“Why is this night different from all other nights,” is of course immutable but it seems the tune trilled by the kids tends to change every year.
Among our other Pesach treasures is a selection of hagadot, ranging from the oldest, a wine-stained volume that my grandparents presented to me and my brother, with cardboard pop-up pictures featuring Moses and the Israelites.
Today our children favour the Animated Hagadah, with its bendy Plasticine characters and easy-to-read text in Hebrew and English.
But perhaps our most evocative hagadah is the kibbutz version, which brings back memories of Pesach under the stars at our kibbutz overlooking Jerusalem. It is full of poetry and songs, which will be part of our Seder this year.
Every family sitting down to the Pesach meal remembers those who are not with us any more. It is a time to recall fondly-held family traditions and stories that bring alive memories and images of the past.
At the moment there are at least 17 people coming to our Seder. So it can be tricky finding sufficient room for chairs, plates, wine glasses, spoons, knives and forks, not to mention space to breathe in our tiny dining room. Our dining table will be supplemented by a massage table — but it will still be pleasantly crowded.
As we lived for 10 years in Israel where there is a tradition of everyone bringing their special dish to the Seder, we have carried on this tradition in England. Our guests have been dragooned into bringing along fruit The find-a-chair challenge compôte, chocolate mousse and wine. Meanwhile we are forever searching for something interesting to do with chicken or lamb, or maybe beef.
One year, never to be forgotten, we served a whole (very small) chicken for each person, a move met with incredulous surprise. Yet despite being told that we had massively over-catered, only the bones were left.
With guests coming from far away places such as New Zealand, Israel and even Brighton, we are organising a postprandial sleepover, the dynamics of which will be very inventive. There are tricky decisions to be made about who is to sleep where, whether on blow-up beds, futon mattresses or duvets.
What I hope for is a store of fun and happy memories for the grandchildren and their cousins, just as we have so many happy recollections of our parents and relations, who told us unlikely tales of Pesachs past and how each mother in each generation would make huge Sedarim, with heaps of charoset.
Our background was traditional but not necessarily religious. We even had an uncle who would end the Seder by singing the Internationale in Yiddish. The aunt who was his wife could not cook, so we would fill up on gefilte, soup and compôte brought in by other family members.
Most of the people coming to our Seder are certainly not religious but they would not miss a Seder night. In particular they enjoy hiding the afikomen and watching our youngsters hunting for it. I, likewise, am not from a religious background but, as the only member of my family in England who has grandchildren attending a Jewish school, I am trying to carry on the Pesach tradition proudly, if perhaps not perfectly.
So we will lift our glasses and say: “next year in Jerusalem” — and in our case, it will be, since next year it is my brother’s turn and he lives in Israel.