Some might think a funny song about a lonely baby goat should not define a chag, yet for me, as we look towards Pesach, it has become the hill upon which I will die.
I grew up with seder nights being the highlight of the Jewish festival calendar. With a religiously raised patriarch who didn’t skip a word of the Haggadah, we came to understand how long there was to go until we reached the eggs in salt water (about an hour); when not to talk too loudly or face the ‘dad look’ down the table; how to secretly dispose of the home grown maror, provided and chopped into monster-sized pieces with glee
by uncle Geoffrey (straight under the table) and we knew which of the four sons we would be (yup, always wicked for me).
As the years passed and we celebrated with a mixture of friends and family, these traditions all stayed roughly the same with my dad leading the seder and Selwyn traditions prevailing.
We often reminisce about the year dad asked a family friend to read the wise son, forgetting that my sister is always the wise son. This resulted in total mayhem! Aside from this blip, we continued to revel in our hilarious rendition of Adir Hu (adding Dr Who somewhere along the way), choking over charoset, and all building to our special version of Chad gadya.
Led by the children, with all but the last verse sung in English, this seder finale is accompanied by relevant animal and stick/fire/death noises as appropriate. Rounded off with a rousing final verse in Hebrew, sung Pavarotti style by my dad while we ramp up the accompanying noises to the heady climax of ‘the Lord, blessed be he’!
Yet as the years have sped by, life changes have thrown a rather awkward shaped shank bone into the mix. Firstly marriage. For us, this is where following ‘Orthodox Judaism’ and celebrating two nights has been somewhat of a lifesaver. My first ‘new family’ seder was something of a shock as I discovered others are doing it differently (or wrong as I call it).
This eye-opener was replicated as we moved around the world for a number of years andexperienced seder nights in a variety of weird and wonderful cultures and countries.
From a rooftop in the centre of Dehli with Chabad (all read superfast by Israelis and no songs at all) to 200 people in a restaurant in Athens with a number of people chatting on their phones throughout (they would have got a seriously scary Dad look!). From the shul seder in Hong Kong, where we were introduced to the brilliant concept of providing large bowls of chocolates and sweets to keep children at the table, and even to a Sephardi Iraqi family seder that involved hitting eachother over the head with leeks every time we sang Dayenu.
Yet for every new seder experience, we continued to host one night and I doggedly insisted on upholding my family traditions and always concluding with the farmyard fare that is Chad gadya. On one occasion, this was a solo performance in front of some astonished guests with my children looking on embarrassed as I baaed, crackled and sploshed as the song dictates.
Marriage might have brought its own challenges, but ageing parents and the practicalities of hosting up to 30 people has resulted in seder moving from my parents to us.
The children are now of the age where they are more than capable of partaking fully in the event. With most of them attending Jewish schools, they have started to work alongside my father to lead the seder and bring new ideas and energy to the table.
For now, and hopefully for many years to come, my dad remains the anchor but, as we look to the future, it’s become increasingly clear that we need to borrow from the old while building the
This way we will ensure the baton is passed through the generations and seder will continue to be the highlight of our Jewish year – with animal noises compulsory.