I often hum Julie Andrews’ “These are a few of my favourite things”. Julie herself would not have imagined that a rabbi would seize upon a phrase in her song and link it with Passover. But when I think of brown paper packages tied up with string I think of the round Snider’s matzah we bought when I was a boy in Melbourne. It was an adventure to undo the string and open the wrapping and to find matzah that was so much crisper than what we buy today.
Every year I try different brands in the hope of rediscovering the long remembered taste. Maybe it’s all a dream and I’m simply being nostalgic.
I also think of some Pesach people every year: Rabbi Danglow with his sermonic tributes to freedom under the British flag, Rabbi Goldman with his exciting way of conducting a Model Seder for us Hebrew School children, Dr Billigheimer who invited us to Second Seder for many years, Mr and Mrs Emanuel Sheink (she was Chief Rabbi Brodie‘s sister) whose Seder we also enjoyed… and Amy Mendes, who said at her Seder, “Maurice (her brother) is as good as a rabbi and Harry (my father) comes from Jerusalem”.
We once went to a huge communal Seder at the St. Kilda Town Hall and did not enjoy it at all. Later I often conducted communal S’darim in London and Sydney and found it almost impossible to weld together a disparate (I hope not too desperate) crowd and to keep order, give explanations, get them singing, listen to the complaints about the food, and retain their interest after the meal.
The second Seder we started in London at the Bayswater Synagogue began with some or most of the cooking being done by my wife at home and then ferried to the shule by a young man who, unlike us, had a car. In Sydney in my time at the Great Synagogue we tried various caterers and had problems with almost all, requiring me to be constantly getting up and double-checking the kitchen.
The annual Model Seder for children was an altogether easier and nicer experience. The parents usually organised the food though it was my task to make the charoset. I ran the event much as I remember Rabbi Goldman doing and I enjoyed it as much as I hope the children did. The Great Synagogue Hebrew School often teamed up with smaller shules for this event and once or twice took our pupils and the food to their premises.
At home our Szyk Seder plate, which we have treasured and used for decades now, was a wedding present from the Association for Jewish Youth in London for whom I was once Religious Director. We had regulars who came to us every year for the first Seder, though when one guest brought us a bottle of whisky we had to explain that there was a problem… Thereafter we always told guests what to bring if they wanted to contribute to the hospitality.
My youngest son played a significant role in our Seder for many years including taking over from me after the meal when I was already somnolent because of the wine (these days it is my grandchildren who do the taking over). In my childhood this problem could hardly arise because my mother made her own raisin wine. I hardly remember the taste, perhaps because raisin wine can’t be wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string and serenaded in song…