“But how will we talk to them?” my daughter Rivka asked me, when I told her and our other children that we would be having an elderly Russian couple and a sister to join us at our Seder in 1991. “We don’t speak Russian and they don’t speak Hebrew or English”

“Never mind,” I brushed their questions aside as firmly as I brushed the stairs, carpets, couches and floor rugs in an attempt to get as much chametz out as is humanly possible. “Pesach has a language all of its own.”

In 1990 when the Soviet Union, as the world had known it for 80 years, collapsed, and Mikhail Gorbachev finally opened the iron flood-gates, a million Russians poured into Israel. Many were interested in discovering more about the religion that had been forbidden to them by successive socialist government and almost all wanted to join in the warmth of a traditional Seder. So a call went out in the community to host a Russian family for Seder night.

Many Russian families are multi-generational and often single parent so the average family consisted of a grandparent,( usually a grandmother) a mother and a child – rarely more than one child.

The Russians are well known for revering education as being the key to a successful and meaningful life. Yet in all their advanced knowledge, one unsubstantiated belief seemed to have been stubbornly ingrained in their mindset.

I only realized how strongly held this belief was when one morning, a friend of mine appeared on my doorstep with a middle aged lady, forcing me to take a welcome break in my Pesach frenzy.

“Ann, this is Dr. Ilena Baronovsky.I wanted her to meet you She’s just made aliyah from Russia and during her medical training she was taught that having more than two children causes women to collapse, physically and mentally.”

I laughed. Maybe erev Pesach wasn’t an ideal time to convince someone that I was sane and not on the verge of collapse. My house didn’t present a very ‘normal’ impression but still I invited them in and showed her photos of our seven children, none of whom were at home at that moment. Her eyes showed her amazement at the thought of one family having so many children. She had seen the parks full of children but had convinced herself that each one belonged to a different family.

Our children would have been very happy to have a child amongst our visitors but we offered to have any family who needed a Seder and not choose a family that pleased our children. After all, in our area most families have several young children and it was apparent that not everyone would be able to host a young family.

But, Rivkah had a point. Communication would be difficult. But then I remembered that my brother-in-law, David, who would be with us, together with my sister, knew a smattering of Yiddish. Hopefully that would break the ice between us and our visitors.

Pesach approached with its usual vigor and vim as I wilted and waned. But the thought of the magic of Seder night, kept us all going.

The children helped prepare the pungent charoset and grated and chopped the tear-streaming maror. The karpas, salt water, burnt eggs and wings were assembled under their father’s watchful eye. They carefully unwrapped the large box of handmade matzos and prepared a seder plate for each adult man who was to be with us.

Our guests arrived clearly excited, shy and eager to join in. With hand gestures, smiles and names they introduced themselves, Olga, her sister Lena and Lena’s husband Boris and we did the same. We gave them each a Haggadah with Russian translation and seated them next to David, who immediately started explaining the meaning and significance of everything on the table.

We sat around the long white table dressed in all its once-a-year finery brimming with all the symbols of Zman Cheruseinu, the time of our freedom , our children’s eyes shining in anticipation of their favorite night of the year.

I suddenly realized that this year we truly were privileged to have people with us who were experiencing their own first Pesach of Freedom, freedom to celebrate as Jews once again.

We had consciously decided to go through the first part of the Haggadah at a reasonable pace because these were elderly people and were certainly not used to the long sedarim that we usually enjoyed. They would probably be hungry and may even need to leave to go to bed.

My husband, speaking through, David , assured them that if there was anything they wanted to ask then they could stop him at any time, and then holding the shining silver becher in his hand he started Kiddush with its own special Pesach niggun and our visitors’ eyes never left him.

Soon it was the children’s turn to say the Mah Nishtana. They started in the old familiar tune and as I glanced down the table I saw Boris’s eyes streaming with tears. He started talking fast and David, as he listened, was also unable to hide his emotion.“ Seventy-five years ago I said this at my grandparent’s Pesach table. But since then I have never heard it until tonight. I am so happy. Thank you so very much.”

Boris joined in with the children as we all together sang the Mah Nishtana over again a few times. Even the children sensed that this moment, this year was something extra special.

I hadn’t realized just how correct I was when I had told the children that Pesach had its own language.

Submitted by Ann Goldberg

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