My then boyfriend’s brother’s wife took one look at my pink dress and said, smiling, “This is your first seder, isn’t it?” Gazing at her red, purple and blue dress I nodded “Yes.” The difference in our dresses made me realize Passover is as much about preserving cultural identity as it is about obeying God. This made such an impression that I remember these details clearly, almost 30 years later:
She set a place at the table for the prophet Elijah, “in case he returns to us tonight,” she said. She served each course of the meal to Elijah first, as if he might walk in and join us any minute. No one ate or drank Elijah’s portion. She removed it to the kitchen while clearing our empty dishes before each course.
The evening was more about ritual than about eating or fellowship. She served us half a glass of wine first. I don’t recall what each course was, but I do remember each had special meanings. Before each course the mother would say, “Now, we…” She explained just how we were to eat or drink the item and all the other traditions in English, to instruct their children.
Children at the Table
Everyone in the house was at the table, even their 3-year-old son. She didn’t explain this, but intuitively I knew there would never be a children’s table for a seder. It was too important for children to miss all the instruction about traditions and history. My family’s Christmas and Easter dinners very often have a children’s table in the kitchen, so that children can have their own conversations.
They had moved their dining table into the living room. She said we were supposed to be in the same room as the front door, again so Elijah could find us. We stayed at the table the whole time I was there, about 3 hours.
I asked about the music on the stereo. They told me the name of the artist, but I don’t recall that now. I just remember it was a man singing in a language they told me was Hebrew.
There were many prayer rituals during the meal. I didn’t understand them. The father of the house said the prayers and everyone repeated a few words here or there. I just observed.
Now I Understand Better
I now know that red, purple and blue are colors special to God, from reading the Old Testament scriptures in my Bible, notably Exodus 24 to 29. From reading the Book of Numbers I also now know that God commanded the Israelites to remain set apart from the rest of the world. At the time I attended the seder Judaism was mysterious to me. Although I accepted Jesus as my messiah when I was 8, I did not receive much religious instruction as a child. My husband gave me my first Bible in 1994, before we became engaged. I am really glad I was able to attend a real Passover seder. I appreciate the memory more and more with each passing year.