From Moses to may­on­naise: my Pesach trauma

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - As for any

I’M SIT­TING down to write this in a state of trauma. It is Sun­day morn­ing, the week be­fore Pesach, and I have just fin­ished my Pesach shop in Gold­ers Green. I have a deep-rooted aver­sion to crowds and chaos. I even find kid­dush on Shab­bat morn­ing a bit much to take. What bet­ter de­ci­sion could I have made, there­fore, than to join most of the Jewish com­mu­nity of north Lon­don in one small su­per­mar­ket, in or­der to give away a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of my an­nual salary in ex­change for a trol­ley-load of sub­stan­dard food (“Spe­cial of­fer: choc ices — only £9.50!”) while be­ing rammed in the back by badlysteered shop­ping trol­leys?

I may need to un­der­take a course of in­ten­sive ther­apy to help me to get over it.

The one up­side of the ex­pe­ri­ence was the op­por­tu­nity to eaves­drop on the con­ver­sa­tions of the other shop­pers. As I walked round pick­ing what I needed from the shelves, (a multi-pack of yogurt for the price of a three-week cruise in the Ba­hamas; a box of juice cost­ing the same as an MA at Har­vard), I had to keep stop­ping to note down the snip­pets I was over­hear­ing:

“What kind of jam shall we get for Grandma?”

“Now, who can spot the matzah first?”

“Don’t buy may­on­naise. We al­ways get it and we al­ways hate it.”

For some rea­son, peo­ple seem to feel that Pesach shop­ping as an en­tire fam­ily is the way for­ward. This leaves quite a lot of scope for dis­agree­ment and in­tense dis­cus­sion:

“I’ll take five of these boxes.” “Oh, please don’t take five. Four will do.”

“I’ll take five.”

The hus­bands ap­pear to bear the brunt of it. They are in­structed…

“Cyril! Get an­other bag of ground al­monds — we don’t want to run out”


“Do you want some bars of choco­late for your­self ?”


“What about the ones with the cow on? Down there. Go on — treat your­self”

… and cor­rected…

“Get one pack of crisps.” “What? For 12 peo­ple? We need two. They sit and they stuff.”

To be fair, if I hadn’t kept stop­ping to make notes, I might have got through my own shop more quickly.

When I was 16 or so, I kept rigidly kosher for Pesach while see­ing lit­tle joy or mean­ing in do­ing so, or even re­al­is­ing there was meant to be any. These days, I make sure I eat no bread, plenty of matzah and a nau­se­at­ing quan­tity of eggs, pota­toes, and baked goods con­tain­ing al­monds (even though I don’t much like al­monds) — but for me, the sig­nif­i­cance of Pesach is no longer bound up in rigid kashrut.

The Seder, too, is an area whether I’ve de­cided qual­ity is more im­por­tant than strict ob­ser­vance. I used to sit down on the sec­ond night with a feel­ing of des­per­a­tion and dis­be­lief that we were go­ing to start the whole thing all over again. Then, one year, it hit me. I didn’t have to go to the sec­ond Seder. It’s surely bet­ter, I thought, to look for­ward to do­ing it once than to dread do­ing it twice. Nowa­days, I stay at home peace­fully with my lit­tle one, while the rest of the fam­ily go off to spend the evening see­ing them­selves as though they, per­son­ally, came forth from Egypt — yet again.

Seder night is a com­plex phe­nom­e­non. Is there any other event in the Jewish cal­en­dar that is ex­pected to be so many things at once?

It is the ul­ti­mate fam­ily get to­gether, with eas­ily as much po­ten­tial for broiges as any Christ­mas din­ner. And it is the evening when the ab­sence of those no longer with us is thrown into sharp fo­cus.

We must make sure we wel­come those who are not lucky enough to have fam­ily nearby to ar­gue with, mak­ing room at the table for them to sit and lis­ten to our fam­ily ar­gu­ments in­stead.

We are re­quired to tell the ar­che­typal story of our peo­ple — and in a way that makes sense to the chil­dren in the room, but gives depth to the adults’ un­der­stand­ing as well.

At the same time, we must think about the state of the world to­day and of those who are not free — oth­er­wise, what is the point?

And it has to be all these things, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, to ev­ery­one in the room, ac­cord­ing to their par­tic­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what that ac­tu­ally means. Lit­tle won­der that a huge num­ber of peo­ple find them­selves at a Seder that does not suit their per­sonal vi­sion.

The Seder I go to is a jolly one, with grand­par­ents and nu­mer­ous chil­dren present, lots of singing and gen­eral meshugas. It’s a bit too chaotic for my tem­per­a­ment, but in ev­ery other way it co­in­cides with the kind of Seder that I ac­tu­ally want. This is purely a mat­ter of good for­tune — and grate­ful I truly am. Chag sameach!

There’s as much


Xmas din­ner

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