A different Passover for us this year
Leafing through the Haggadah's final pages, I read the quintessential yearning prayer recited by Jews over the generations. I close the book with a palpable sense of hope.
By SMADAR PERETZ
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Passover is just about here.
Amid serious house cleaning, intensive shopping, creative cooking and ritual searching for breadcrumbs to be removed prior to the holiday, my mind wonders and my heart yearns to be elsewhere.
Spring in Israel has become our family's modern-day rendition of the biblically decreed pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Temple days.
Alas, things are different this year. Weighed down by horrifying pictures of random terror, daily reports of violence and despair, and giving in to personal pleadings of family and friends, we've made what seems to be the responsible decision: We are not going to Israel with our children this Passover.
An Israeli living in English Canada and married to a Canadian, I was determined to raise our children to be truly bilingual in English and Hebrew. (French will come later, I reasoned, as I marvelled at their fluency in Hebrew.) It was the main reason I chose to stay home with my three boys and build our own Hebrew immersion universe.
To expand that carefully constructed universe, and anchor it with the landscape, the living language, the scents, the tastes and most of all, childhood fun, I resolved to take our children to Israel each year on Passover.
Since we are not going this year, I bring out the dusty box of Passover Haggadahs, (Passover prayer books), hoping the familiar narrative of Jewish communal memory will offer new insights to share with family and friends who will gather at our home on the first night of Passover.
I stop at one of my favorite sections, Ma Nishtana, literally translated to mean: How is it different?
Traditionally sung by the youngest family member, to reflect their inquisitive mind, this beautiful tune calls on the youngster to ask everyone around the table four different questions inquiring about how this Passover night is different from all other nights.
As I read it again my eyes well up; I am overwhelmed with sorrow.
Reflecting on the ancient parchments this very text was once written upon, I am overtaken by an image of a parchment of pain now unfolding in the Middle East.
Time-honoured tableaux of the miraculous exodus of the Israelites from Egypt intersect with the canvas of chaos currently being played out in my homeland.
My boys do not wait for Passover to ask questions. At their age it seems the hows, whys, and particularly the why-nots are an endless stream in all our conversations.
We told them some weeks ago that we will not celebrate Passover in Israel this year. Much as we try to shelter them from the constant and graphic news coverage from Israel, they know that is the reason for this Passover being different from all other ones in their lives.
Learning to live under my ever-present cloud of sadness and dread, I take comfort in my boys frequent, even if at times trivial, reminiscences of our annual pilgrimage.
They talk about the impossibly long plane ride and giggle at funny Hebrew words they picked up on our trips.
They recall the festive, gourmet and somewhat chaotic Seder with much-loved cousins they see only once a year.
Most of all, they remember our adventures in one of Israel's unassuming, beautiful retreats operated by the Society for Preservation of Nature.
They talk about their close encounter with an ibis at the wildlife sanctuary in Ein Gedi.
They recall the challenging climb up the Red Canyon near Eilat.
They talk about the delicious fresh-mint-and-apples tea brewed on a small outdoor fire one starry night in the desert, of snorkelling with multi-coloured fish in the Red Sea, of listening to their rolling echoes atop the grand crater of Mitzpe Ramon.
They can't wait to go on another tractor ride through the fragrant grapefruit orchards with our dear friend, Tzvi, and chase their cousin's Golden Retriever on the sandy Mediterranean beaches.
Their eyes sparkle as they recall with pride striking up a Hebrew conversation with some kids in our hiking group who introduced them to the best local chocolate bar. Their little voices still chattering in the background, I leaf through the Haggadah's final pages.
Reading the concluding, quintessential yearning prayer recited by Jews over the generations, Next Year in Jerusalem, I close the book with a palpable sense of hope.
Smadar Peretz is an Israeli-Canadian living in Toronto.