Facebook live, Instagram live, nowadays there is every way to go live. While we were not on screen, this year’sPassover Seder sprung alive in our home on Malcolm Ave — but in an utterly different way than expected. So why was this night different than all other nights? Or, in this case, why was this Passover different than all other Passovers?
Our family is accustomed to hosting a public Seder for our Chabad with many participants. But because of COVID-19, that was not going to be possible, and we did not anticipate having guests at our family Seder table. But the night before Pesach, Irving, a 93-year-old member of our community, gave us a call. He needed a place to go for the Seder. He explained that he was fully vaccinated and cleared by his doctor to join us. We were thrilled to host him.
From the moment Irving arrived, he asked to see our baby, who was sleeping (Irving’s face always lights up when he sees our children, and he asks them what they are learning in school and what is new for them in their little lives). He then gifted us a book. It was filled with pictures from life in Austria before the Holocaust. (Of course, I’ve learned about the Holocaust but never took the time to sit and hear the stories. I finally did!)
We then started the Seder. Kadesh, Urchatz, step by step. The kids proudly asked the Ma Nishtana and showed the beautiful Hagaddot that they had lovingly prepared at school. That part of the Seder was the same as always. But then came Shulchan Aruch, the delicious holiday meal. Together with the salad, fish and chicken soup came Irving’s stories. We had never heard them before!
Irving started sharing about his life in Austria. Out spilled the treasures of a Jew who had witnessed Jewish history in its rawest, purest and most terrifying state. Out spilled the stories of him hiding his father under material in their home and secretly driving to warn his uncle that the Nazis were out to get him next. Out spilled the stories of escaping the Nazis’ brutal regime by leaving on one of the last boats, before it was too late.
Out spilled the treasures of a Jew who had witnessed Jewish history in its rawest, purest and most terrifying state.
Irving spoke and spoke. “Can you imagine that they tried to destroy us simply for being Jewish?” he asked. He shared how time and again G-D’s Mighty and Loving Hand saved his family from the sickening pursuit of the Nazis. He spoke about the miracles he lived through and how he is ever certain that we will outlive and outsmart any physical, emotional or spiritual enemy that may rise against us.
I soaked it in like a little girl listening to her grandfather tell stories of his youth. I wanted to hear it all from the original source. I wanted to observe how a hero describes his life. I wanted to know every detail. Irving’s story touched my heart.
One of my favorite songs at the Seder is Vehi Sheamdah. It translates, “In every generation yet another nation rises to fight against us Jews and G-D saves us again.” That night we witnessed a walking, talking, living Hagaddah. Hagaddah means to speak, to speak the words of the Exodus from Egypt, of our history as a Jewish nation. Irving spoke it all. He told the story of a nation that will survive through thick and thin. For me Vehi Sheamdah will never sound the same. And Irving was right: They will never win. We will always prevail!
Then Irving’s wish came true. Our baby woke up, and my husband brought him to the Seder table. “YOU! YOU are the answer. And your sister, and your brothers,” Irving said, pointing to each of our children. “Hitler would’ve been infuriated to see the children. Yet, they are here and he is not!”
Many people say that children are our future. However, I’ve learned from the Lubavitcher Rebbe that children are the present and current focus of our people (and our future too). They are here and telling the world that Am Yisroel Chai. Yes, children, you are also the living Hagaddot.
Zeldie Cunin is a passionate teacher and writer. She is the co-director of Chabad of Westwood-Holmby.