My father's seder

Excerpt taken from Yosef Mendelevich’s book 'At the Edge of the Heavens,' being translated by David Herman.

By YOSEF MENDELEVICH
March 29, 2013 23:47
2 minute read.
YOSEF MENDELEVICH is welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport after being released from prison in the USSR.

YOSEF MENDELEVICH. (photo credit: GPO)

I grew up in a world very far from the world of Judaism. It was a world entirely red: the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Communism. It is a wonder then how the Passover Seder night finds a place in the consciousness of a boy, built on these slogans.

I can’t remember when Father began to hold the Passover Seder at home. Perhaps only when he was released from prison, and without Mother.

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I don’t think that Father had any special problem about renewing the custom of the Passover Seder. He told me that our maternal grandfather used to invite him to participate in the Passover Seder in their house, even in those years before the Second World War.

Father didn’t observe the mitzvot and was active in a Communist underground. It is interesting that grandfather used to invite him.

Perhaps by doing so he wished to plead the cause of his son-in-law and daughter, and it is interesting that Father accepted Grandfather’s invitation.

He didn’t reject it even though he was an atheist and a communist.

And perhaps he wasn’t such an atheist, for otherwise how did he agree to hold a religious ceremony in the home of his father-in-law, a Chabad Hassid? Perhaps some kind of answer lies in that Passover Seder which my father conducted anew.

The very fact that the Seder was held according to the Haggada, even in the 1960s, was something special, even though there were certainly several thousand other Jews throughout Russia who kept the tradition. Although we didn’t possess a Passover Haggada, Father conducted the Seder from memory, and his memory didn’t betray him. Only later on did we come by a very fine Haggada, even with illustrations and a Russian translation.

But that wasn’t, in my opinion, the most important thing. The uniqueness of my father’s Seder resided in the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Father would begin from Adam, the first man, and end with the history of the revival of the People of Israel in the modern era.

This was still a great innovation to me.

Here at the Seder table we learned the history of the Jewish people, and also received a Zionist outlook.

Consequently, the Passover Seder performed its function wonderfully, as our Sages foresaw: “And thou shall tell it to your son.” This wasn’t just an empty saying. This was a Haggada that was a command, a transmission.

Things that are said to the son, something of them will remain in him.

I can testify about myself that I grew up as a Jew thanks to the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

This, if you will, is my “Girsa Diynkuta,” my knowledge acquired in childhood. ❖ Excerpt taken from Yosef Mendelevich’s book At the Edge of the Heavens, currently being translated by David Herman.


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