October 22, 2020
By Peter Gorog
I never had a chance to ask the four questions that are traditionally asked by the youngest person at the Passover Seder table. Neither have I had a chance to earn a dollar by being the first to find the Afikoman. I was already 40 years old when I first attended a family Seder in Baltimore with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.
I was four when the Holocaust ended in Hungary. Although the war was over, many Jewish families were decimated and many Jewish survivors turned away from religion. Among them was my mother, a previously Orthodox woman, who could no longer believe in a benevolent G-d who allowed the death of six million Jews, among them my father.
While I grew up in communist Hungary, we did not observe the Shabbat customs. We did not follow the Jewish dietary laws, but we still fasted on Yom Kippur and ate matzah for eight days during Passover. I have learned from my mom that the best way to enjoy the otherwise dry matzah is to break it into small pieces, put the pieces in a big mug, fill the mug with half coffee, half milk, and sweeten it with plenty of sugar.
One typically can’t remember much from before age three. The only Passover Seder I can remember while I was still living in Hungary was organized by the Jewish community at the Great Synagogue of Budapest. I was about ten or 11, and I remember the beautifully decorated tables with the Seder plates, the reading of the Haggadah, and the melodies of the traditional songs. Unfortunately for me the reading was in Hebrew, which I hadn’t had an opportunity to learn in the strictly atheistic communist system.
For this reason, it took some 30 years until I came to America that I understood the real meaning of Passover. It was a revelation in 1981 in Baltimore. The story of the Jews fleeing from slavery in Egypt, is my personal story too, as the Haggadah teaches us. I crossed the Atlantic, not the Red Sea, to escape from an oppressive regime and since then I have celebrated my freedom with my family every year.
Although I never asked the four questions and never searched for the Afikoman, this year, as in the past 34 years, I will answer those questions and I will hide the Afikoman. I will also pay the lucky finder five dollars as the current finder’s fee.
It is our family tradition that everyone at the Seder table tells a personal story that illustrates either being free of some kind of bondage (e.g. addiction to electronic gadgets, internet, TV, etc.) or a story of what freedom meant to us in that particular year. My stories are somehow always related to our family’s lack of freedom during the Holocaust and then the communist dictatorship, the freedom I am enjoying in America, or stories of my experiences as a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This year, the year of the coronavirus, our stories will be different. Our freedom today is constrained in many ways so we can slow down the spread of the virus. My grown-up children, for the first time in their lives, are experiencing that their freedom is limited and some of them have difficulties in accepting government regulations. I can hardly wait to hear their stories.
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