South Seas Seder
Namotu is a little speck of an atoll barely three acres in
area, about the size of a typical shopping center. It’s part of the South
Pacific island nation of Fiji, and it’s where my group of surfing lawyers
decided to spend our annual legal seminar/surf trip last year.
As the date for the trip approached, I realized that I would
be away from my family for Passover. Having never missed a family seder in my
life, I began having second and third thoughts. I sent an e-mail to my fellow
travelers, asking if anyone would be interested in participating in a seder
while in Fiji. Many replied that they would.
On the day preceding Passover on Namotu, I posted a notice
on a well-worn bulletin board: “Passover seder tonight.” I figured about 20 of the
25 individuals in our group were Jewish and they would be attending.
That afternoon, I was approached by a Fijian man. He saw the
notice and wanted to talk to me. He explained that many Fijians were devout
Methodists, having only within the last 100 years given up their previous
religious belief and the practice of cannibalism. They were very interested in
the Passover experience and were themselves preparing for Good Friday and
Easter Sunday observances.
The locals were expecting their annual visit from the
minister and informed him by radio of the seder. He asked the Fijians to ask me
if I could spare any matzahs for use in their observance as the sacrament. I
told him of course, and I would consider it an honor if any of the Fijians
would like to attend the seder.
As the time for the seder approached, the small boats began
to arrive. The native women were attired in their finest dresses, with their
black hair exotically done. The men, who usually wore shorts and T-shirts,
showed up in their finest shirts and sarongs.
The tables were beautifully set — outdoors, under the night
sky — with the finest linens, napkins and china. Where such things came from, I
had no idea. The haggadahs and kippot were distributed and the seder began. As
the readings progressed around the table, I thought of my family, friends and
past seders. They were all memorable, all special, but this night was truly
different from all other seder nights.
One of our boatmen, Wonga, stood at the table wearing his
finest flowered sarong and white shirt. With kippah in place, he held up the matzahs.
He pronounced in halting English, “Lo, this is the bread of affliction.”
Everyone enjoyed themselves and talked about the seder for
many days afterward. The natives told me this was probably the first seder in Fiji
— or certainly on Namotu — and they wouldn’t forget it.