Many years ago, I was living in a very small town in central Austria. It was spring, and for those of my (personally tenuous) faith, this means Passover. Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. It combines good food and a story that I interpret as being about travel at its heart. It’s the annual retelling of the story of Exodus – the flight of the Jews from their oppression by Egyptian pharaohs, their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their entry into the Holy Land. It’s fun, too; there are games and songs and plenty of wine. it’s the only holiday I’ll go out of my way to celebrate. In this small town in Austria, I was devastated with the possibility that there would be no Seder. There were, after all, no Jews nearby. In a move that was either hopeful or desperate, I emailed the nearest synagogue, approximately 125 miles away in Graz, explained my situation and asked if they were hosting a community Seder. “I apologize for not writing in German, but do feel free to respond in German; I can read well enough; I just can’t write.”
The answer I received was in English from an American expat who’d grown up not far from where I lived as a small child. “Yes, we have a community Seder, but why don’t you just come to my house? Really, I mean it, you would be very welcome.”We went, and it was as I expected, which is to say nothing short of magical. It was all the familiar things: the story, the laughing, the strangers who genuinely feel like friends after a long evening at the table sharing this thread that binds us all together no matter where we are from.
I’d started my hunt for a Seder with Chabad’s Seder Finder. I don’t know that it’s the most comprehensive, but it’s international. While Chabad is too conservative for me, it’s as good place as any to begin your search. Contacting the closest synagogue is a good way to go, as is Hillel – the Jewish student organization – if there’s a university near you. There’s also @globalrabbi — send a tweet for help connecting to a nearby Seder. It’s worth the minimal bother — a Seder with strangers in a far away place is a memorable and moving experience.
I had blogged about my Graz Seder experience, and now, nearly every year, I get an email from a Seder stray asking me for help in finding their own. I always answer and include an invitation to my table, should the stray end up in my hometown. This year, the message came from a man from Berlin looking for contacts in Graz. By the time I replied, he’d received an invitation to a stranger’s home. With his heartfelt holiday greetings, he returned my invitation. “Should you be in Berlin for the holiday, ever, any time, you are welcome at our table as well. And happy holidays!”
[Photo: Passover Table by atl10trader via Flickr (Creative Commons)]