Passover at Bet El

This week marks my first Passover in Argentina, and it took me rather by surprise. Maybe because I’m just not used to thinking about Passover in the fall (which it is here right now; crazy, huh?), I had totally forgotten about the holiday until my mom asked me what my seder plans were midway through last week. Because of my research, I have heaps of contacts in the Jewish community here, and it seemed crazy to me that I might very well go without a seder this year, for the first time in my life. With some more prep time, I would have gone fishing for an invitation, but asking my contacts if they “knew of any seders” just four days beforehand seemed too transparent to be workable. I tried to resign myself to skipping seder this year, but it upset me a lot more than I’d have though it would’ve.

Fortunately, some last-minute googling turned up something that I should have suspected right from the beginning; Comunidad Bet El, by far my favorite Buenos Aires synanogue, was hosting a second-night “seder comunitario.” I emailed my RSVP right away, not sure whether I’d missed the deadline, and I got a really sweet and welcoming telephone call insisting that I attend in return. The seder took place last night, and it was exceptionally nice. The 100 or so people present were almost all families with young children, and the service was much shorter and more sing-song-y than I’m used to, but there were a few nice adult touches too: the wine was malbec instead of Manischewitz, and the Bet El-generated “hagadá” was peppered with lots of little social justice messages. (In fact, Bet El has an incredible history as more or less the only Argentine religious institution to openly welcome relatives of desaparecidos during the country’s last dictatorship, and the US-born rabbi who led the congregation during the period, Marshall Meyer, was co-founder of the remarkable Jewish Movement for Human Rights, one of the few groups to openly advocate on behalf of the disappeared. It’s a great, inclusive, lefty place; I’ll post about it in more detail sometime soon.)

Feeling bad for the lone foreigner, the organizers sat me next to the president of the congregation, Aldo. When I saw my seat assignment I felt a bit nervous–what would we have to talk about?–but Aldo ended up being the highlight of the evening. He’s a really sweet older man who introduced me to just about everyone at the seder and laughed at least twice as hard as necessary at my few feeble jokes. As it happens, he’s also a huge history buff; we spent the night arguing about Rosas (right now, the 19th century maybe-dictator-maybe-not is a huge political flashpoint, for reasons you probably wouldn’t guess) and Perón (a flashpoint for exactly the reasons you’d expect).

After four cups of malbec (and Aldo, who insisted on pouring, made sure they weren’t little cups), it was hard not to smile as I belted out Pesach classics like “Un cabritico” and “Singular es… ¿quién lo sabe? Singular es… ¡yo lo sé!” An excellent night all around.

Jag pesaj sameaj a todos!

3 thoughts on “Passover at Bet El

  1. One of my mom’s old haggadahs lists “The Ten Ways Jewish Women Are Oppressed” instead of the Ten Plagues. Gotta love social justice-y Jews!

  2. Glad to hear you find a seder to attend, Paul. It’s always been a struggle for us in Switzerland. Every time this season rolls around, I find myself really missing the PJA seder a whole lot (not the food, though!).

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