A vagabond’s Passover reflections

Why is this night different from all other nights? 

I think back to when I was a young boy, proudly reciting the four questions in front of a large number of Jewish old folks, in the auditorium of some resort, on one of my family’s many spring break vacations.

Passover is the annual (re)commemoration of the Jewish national story. It is the story of a man who gave up his position of privilege in Egyptian society to lead his people out of bondage. It is the story of a man with a disability who needed the support of his older brother to convey a powerful message to his people’s oppressor. Perhaps, most importantly, it is the first chapter in the story of a people’s return to their homeland after a long and painful separation.

This week, Jewish communities throughout the world will celebrate Passover, also known as ‘the festival of freedom.’ The story is told, food is eaten, wine is drank, and songs are sung, as part of a large meal known as a seder. If possible, the experience should be shared with family, friends, and even strangers. Depending on where you are in the world, the customs of celebration may vary slightly, but the story always remains the same, the food tasty, and the wine abundant.

As a vagabond, or long-term traveler, I have had the pleasure of experiencing unique Passover seders in many different locales during the past decade –

2015 – Chabad (a Jewish outreach movement) organized a small, impromptu, seder for several traveling families and backpackers in the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala. We told jokes and shared personal stories.

2016 – A friend and I found ourselves in the old Jewish quarter of Marrakesh, Morocco. We energetically discussing biblical history from the comfort of a balcony terrace, amidst the smells and sounds of the busy Arab souk below.

2017 – Chiang Mai, Thailand turned into mini-Israel during the Passover seder. Hundreds of people – the vast majority of them Israelis – crammed into the dining room of a luxury hotel for a chabad-sponsored meal. The Thai national police provided security for the large event. Far from home, I was surprised and delighted to bump into old friends at the meal. 

2018 – While studying Spanish in Bogotá, Colombia, I was invited to a lively and fun-filled Passover meal that catered to both Israelis and locals.

2019 – After hiking a large swath of the Golan Trail, a friend invited me to his family’s Moroccan-Israeli seder in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. Just thinking about the succulent (and spicy) food served there makes me salivate.

This year I’ll be celebrating Passover under ‘corona-virus lockdown’ in Cochabamba, Bolivia. There’s a miniscule Jewish community here, but government-imposed restrictions are making it a challenge to celebrate together. The chabad envoy in the Bolivian capital of La Paz graciously invited me to celebrate the holiday with him and his family, and even made a commendable effort to provide me with matzah (unleavened bread). But with the suspension of public transport throughout the country, it would appear that his kind attempts at assistance have been for naught. I have no doubt that my Passover experience this year will be another link in the long chain of my unique holiday experiences. In any event, the Passover story will continue to be told.

Next year in Jerusalem! !לשנה הבאה בירושלים

About the Author
Freeman Poritz is currently traveling long-term and observing Israel from afar.
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