Passover Past times: Memories around the seder table

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Passover Past times: Memories around the seder table

The time is fast approaching to dust off your trestle tables and hunt down the spare folding chairs, for Pesach is upon us

Top: Rabbi Shauk Rosenblatt, Rabbi Jonny Hughes, Bottom: Rabbi Dov Katz and Rabbi Laura-Janner-Klausner
Top: Rabbi Shauk Rosenblatt, Rabbi Jonny Hughes, Bottom: Rabbi Dov Katz and Rabbi Laura-Janner-Klausner

 As one of the biggest festivals of the Jewish calendar (certainly in preparation), it’s no wonder people have so many heartwarming stories to tell of their many memories of growing up around the seder table.

Now lean in a little closer to hear what certain rabbis remember about Pesach when they were still in short trousers (or skirts).

Rabbi Jonny Spector, Edgware

“My first memories of Pesach are sitting round the seder table with my family and grandparents.

My grandma always loved singing  Dayenu, and my siblings and I would sing all of the songs we had learnt at school.

To keep us all awake and following the story, my father would sing a special tune for the word sheneemar, which pops up many times in the Haggadah, at which point we would all join in. It kept us interested.

 Rabbi Spector, as a young boy
Rabbi Spector, as a young boy

To make my own family seder extra special, we use many props, including flying frogs, which all the children love.

For Chad Gadya, we have specific sounds and noises that we make to go along with the tune. This is always something to look forward to and wakes everyone  up towards the end.

As a festival, my family and I love Pesach – it ranks near the top, just behind Chanukah.  We have a food tradition of serving ‘sweet and sour tongue’ – something just a little bit different.

I love how the whole family comes together and the excitement the children generate in looking forward to it.”

Rabbi Johnny Hughes, Radlett

Rabbi Jonny Hughes in younger days

“As a child, we didn’t celebrate Pesach – perhaps it was no coincidence I was the fifth son, so there was no place for me!

I became more religious as I grew older and Pesach has become a highly celebrated festival for my family.

As a child, my siblings and I would go to sleep as early as possible on Christmas Eve, ready to wake early and enjoy the festivities.

As a parallel, my own kids now make sure they get the most amount of sleep possible the night before seder so they can stay up late into the night and participate in all of the songs and activities.

Pesach has very much replaced the excitement of Christmas for me, and our family often acts out the wonderful stories as little plays, each getting to play a particular character and launching props like ping pong balls and toy frogs around the table.

One year, during the explanation of the ‘death of the first born’,
we all keeled over, pretending to be dead. My youngest daughter was horrified and cried her eyes out!

Each Pesach, I also really look forward to my wife’s ‘shepherd’s pie’.”

Rabbi Alan Garber, Shenley

“I remember my childhood sedarim with my family growing up in Kenton, back to when I was about five years old. I remember late nights and my mum’s yummy seder night food, especially her home-made charoset, made with lots of strong wine.

Rabbi Alan Garber
Rabbi Alan Garber

My parents always had single people over who would otherwise not have had a seder to go to. We had a fairly standard Anglo-traditional seder, but the most unique part were the stories my grandma would tell during the meal.

When I lead the seder, I have two bags of different types of sweets, which the participants (young and old) receive for either asking great questions or answering the questions I ask.

Seder night is perhaps my favourite night of the year as there is so much preparation that goes into it.  I love how the kids get involved in setting things up, the ideas they learn and share and having the guests at our table  participate in the  whole experience.

The sedarim is the highlight for me, especially the communal one, which my family and I host every year for the community.

I look forward to the special chametz-free diet and ‘matzah pizza’ is one of those delicacies you don’t get every day, which makes it special.”

Rabbi Dovid Katz, Chabad,  West Hampstead

“I remember being five or six at my cousins’ house in Israel. It was a very traditional seder, with more than  25 people there. We would learn portions each year in different languages, including Russian,
French and English.

Rabbi Dov Katz, Chabad West Hampstead, as a child
Rabbi Dov Katz, Chabad West Hampstead, as a child

My cousins and I would play crazy challenges such as eating a ‘Shmurah matzah’ within four minutes, no water, nothing! We would then eat marror until our eyes burned and we rolled around with laughter – I can still remember the burning pain of it. I don’t think our elders were amused, but as kids we exploded with laughter.

Through Chabad, we now host a communal seder both nights at the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park. It’s wonderful seeing the smiles round the table and the fun we have singing Echad Mi Yodea and watching the children search for the afikoman, for which everyone is rewarded!

We split the hall so the service can be conducted both in Hebrew and in English – everyone should have the chance to understand the service. Towards the end, we come together and complete the evening. We have costumes for all of the plagues and we put together 10 boxes of ‘plagues’ that get opened along the way – it gets pretty crazy.

With the changeover of Pesach, we buy new suits every year, which is so special. I really look forward to eating salmon omelettes, which are my favourite thing. That, and home-made ice cream.”

Rabbi Binyamin Bar, Westcliff-on-Sea

“When I think of my first seder memories, I’m aged about six or seven. It was very children-focused and my father always led the seder with great humour and lots of laughter.

Rabbi Binyamin Bar
Rabbi Binyamin Bar

We would bake our own matzah with other family groups, everyone sitting surrounded with pillows and my father on the house’s most comfortable couch. He would sing Chad Gadya in other languages, such as Arabic, and there was much lengthy bargaining between my father and whoever was lucky enough to have found the afikoman regarding the reward.

For my own seder, I invite Jews from all levels of observance and try to share with them the message of Pesach in a way they can all relate and feel special about being Jewish.

It’s such a special festival, by far the most hard-working one, but the hard work pays off. That amazing feeling on the first night of seder, when everything looks sparkling and feels holy is indescribable.”

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt,  Tikun, London

“I must have been about six or seven, eyes wide, as I watched my two brother-in-laws getting mightily drunk and dancing round the seder table.

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

Growing up in Liverpool, we were a traditional family with a small but tight community. Seder night was always a huge celebration with our wider family– there were never fewer than 20 or 30 people – and the service was always led by my father in Hebrew.

As I grew up, I started to rebel, hating Shabbat dinner
and the religious ideas put forward to me. However, a chance meeting with a rabbi who spoke at my school was a turning point and through a series of events, including spending seder night and the whole of Shabbat with him, I loved it again in a different way. I saw that ideas aren’t something to be afraid of.

Today by contrast, I conduct the whole seder in English, so everyone should feel included. Pesach is such a big festival and has a great importance for me that I even wrote my own translation of the Haggadah, which I printed and personalised. With eight kids and three grandkids, that’s many years of fun we have had, especially with the plagues. One year even featured live locusts! This year, I’m working on live frogs.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, East Finchley

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

“I think I have my first memories of being around five years old, around a very large and extremely raucous seder with my grandparents, Barnett and Elsie, who were desperately trying to keep the “children’s table” quiet. My late father Greville led the service so beautifully, with lots of singing and extended family, plus extra guests who needed a seder.

Pesach is by far my favourite festival and today I come together with many others for seder, including my friend, Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu. She is from an Afghani family and we now practise her tradition of using spring onions, gently slapped on our backs during Dayenu to re-enact being whipped!

I always look forward to foods such as fried eggy matzah –
it may not be so healthy, but it’s very tasty!”

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