My Seder night

First person account of one soldier's unique Seder night.

Passover seder meal (photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
Passover seder meal
(photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
This is not the first time that I’m telling this story as Passover gets threateningly closer, and I hope it won’t be the last. It’s one that I thoroughly enjoy telling since I consider it a story of heroism.
You’ve probably read about all sorts of courageous heroes in newspapers and books who’ve fought on battle fields, but only a minuscule number of especially courageous people can rise to the level of courage that I – and a few other unnamed soldiers spread throughout the country – reached on that fateful evening.
The gloomy feeling that something was going to happen began to spread through my stomach and my chest in those afternoon hours. The house was busy with hectic preparations. In the kitchen the food processor whirred, pans sizzled merrily, a knife made chopping sounds as it cut herbs on the board.
People came and went sweating with effort, as they brought crates of wine and mineral water. Appetizing smells wafted throughout the house.
In another part of the house, I stood, having just been thrown out of the kitchen when the cooking took on a serious twist and there was no longer room for someone who loves to play master chef for the dumb and clumsy. I held the glasses up to the sun to check that they were sparkling clean, I lay the silverware next to the plates just so, and I straightened the white table cloth like only a Swiss maid could.
To the casual observer, I may have looked the same, and the truth is that I didn’t feel any different, as I waited for the all-powerful Mrs. Dankner, who dictates everything that happens in our home, to order me to vacate the ground floor so I wouldn’t get in her way, because from that moment on, the game turned into a professional project, in other words not for someone in my league.
Since underneath her tough exterior Mrs. Dankner is actually very sensitive, she noticed that I was glumly climbing the stairs, feeling unneeded, so she called after me, “Hey, listen. Why don’t you take a look at some of those Haggadot with the commentaries that your religious friends brought you? Maybe you’ll find something smart to say after all tonight at the Seder.”
And that’s how it came about that downstairs the commotion continued to grow when the cleaner and our two sons joined the task force, while I remained alone, exiled to the bed where I lay with a touch of bitterness. I opened up one of the Haggadot hoping that I would find something brilliant to say, that I would sound so clever that all those gathered around the table would clap and cheer.
And thus I fell into a reverie that wasn’t really sleep in which it was unanimously decided that in recognition of my high intelligence I would be honored with a sip of wine from Elijah’s cup.
The window was open and I woke up two or three hours later to a burst of spring wind that was so fresh and cheery. I sprang up in my bed in such a great mood. And then I noticed Mrs. Dankner looking at herself in the mirror with justified satisfaction, as she admired the new dress I had bought for her in Paris.
As she left the room, she casually called out to me that I should probably get up and dressed because the guests would soon be arriving.
The truth is that out of habit I was planning to jump out of bed, but then suddenly I didn’t feel like it. I so powerfully didn’t feel like it that I continued to just lie there on my bed. It felt so nice when the wind caressed my forehead.
After a few moments, my boys came upstairs and said to me, “Mom is asking why you’re still upstairs.
Grandma and Grandpa are here already.” I didn’t answer them. I just looked at them, my eyes full of love. But my conscience refused to let go of me. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I heard myself telling them, “No – I’m not coming down.”
“Yeah, right,” they chuckled and left the room.
It took another 15 minutes until Mrs. Dankner herself came upstairs.
“What’s going on with you?” she asked. “Are you not feeling well?” She really did look worried and I tried to explain my situation to her. “I feel fine, dear,” I told her. “Just great. Exceptional.” She scrunched up her forehead and asked, “So what is it then?” When I fail to respond, she says, “You and your nonsense. Do you not understand that now is not the time for jokes? My brother and sister-in-law and the kids will be arriving any moment and soon it will be time to sit down at the table for Seder and you haven’t even showered yet. So come on! Get up already!” I lay there and shook my head, smiling. From downstairs we heard the joyous voices of people entering our home. Aunts and uncles, a cousin who brought two friends from overseas with him. Mrs.
Dankner gave me a look and just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, we’ll see how long your stupid joke lasts.” And with that she left.
I lay back down on my bed. All of a sudden I began to understand what was happening to me. The truth is that at the beginning I also thought maybe I don’t feel good, and later I thought that maybe I was just being funny, because I have been known to play silly jokes, believe me! But I began to understand that something completely different was happening to me this time. I knew that it wasn’t something simple, that it was the beginning of something big. I fluffed the pillows behind my back and sat up straight, ready for what was to come.
THE DELEGATIONS began to arrive. My brother-in-law came to say hello and gave me a pat on the back, asking how are things. His eyes surveying me for signs of sickness and reflecting to me a distress call: This man is crazy! And who knows whether he might suddenly jump on me and bite my throat. But he mustered the courage to say, “So, nu, are you coming? It’s just that we want to begin the Seder.” “No,” I said quietly. “I’m staying right here. In bed. I’m not going to participate in the Seder.”
“What do you mean you’re not going to participate?” he asked. “I mean, it’s Seder night.” “That’s wonderful,” I said. “It’s Seder night, but you’ll have to do it without me.” “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” my brother-in-law said.
His wife peeked over his shoulder and scolded me, “Look what you’ve done – your wife is crying.”
“It happens,” I said. “She’ll get over it.” My brother- in-law looked at me as if to say, From the beginning I’ve been unhappy with the choice my sister made, and then he left.
His wife stayed for another moment and caressed my hand. “If it’s something that happened between you two, if you had a little fight, this happens sometimes when you’re married. Oh boy, the stories I could tell you!” she said as she rolled her eyes. “But you move on.” “No,” I said, “don’t tell me anything.
I don’t want to know. Nothing happened. We didn’t have a fight and everything is fine. I just don’t want to go downstairs. And close the door on your way out, please.”
I could hear people shuffling around outside my closed door, whispering, worried. I could hear a woman crying, children laughing and then being scolded. Every once in a while the door would open and someone would peek inside, briefly glancing around, as if he were a doctor trying to make a quick diagnosis. Then the door would close and I would hear muffled voices and sighs of sadness.
Slowly the gathering outside my bedroom door began to disperse. I heard people going down the stairs, and then there was silence, except for the heavy breathing of one person who had insisted on remaining there.
Apparently it was Mrs. Dankner’s father who was still deliberating if the time had come to break down the door, to go inside and drag me down the stairs by my collar. But he changed his mind when he thought about my generous girth and instead went downstairs to join the others.
And then it was quiet. I could hear singing coming from downstairs. Glasses were raised, the mood was slowly improving, and the singing got louder. Then the food arrived, jokes were tossed around, and I sat on my bed, all alone.
I, who knew the words of the Haggada by heart, all the family jokes and the stories and the blessings. I, who had experienced year after year of Seder nights that had left me feeling empty. I sat by myself in my bed and listened to the music. I waved my hands like a conductor leading a symphony orchestra, as the fresh spring wind caressed my forehead on this fragrant April evening. A feeling of triumph welled up inside of me. I celebrated the celebration of Passover, the celebration of Spring, and above all the celebration of Freedom, as it should be celebrated, with a true sense of freedom. I was finally free on Passover, Seder night’s guerrilla warrior, the man who stuck the flag of freedom straight into the matza ball, a true Ben Zoma who doesn’t let others push him around.
But it’s not as if I didn’t have to pay for this behavior afterwards. Oh boy, did I pay for it! But since that night I’ve had this feeling of pride that I did what I needed to do, despite the price I had to pay. It was such a good feeling. Everyone should have the opportunity to taste freedom at least once during his lifetime. Think about this when you are standing in the endless lines at the grocery store, or when you’re preparing haroset, that however fantastical it sounds, the option is still there.
I did it and made it out alive.