Last Friday, two of my friends and I decided to attend services at a local Jabad in Buenos Aires. With Passover around the corner, Julie, Cole, and I thought it might be a good idea to explore Jewish life in Argentina, and because my mom kept asking if I had a Seder to attend, it seemed practical to do some research.
I arrived at services not knowing what to expect, and needless to say, the experience was not what I expected. First, it was an Orthodox service, hence a separation between men and women, something I personally don’t agree with. Nonetheless, as I skimmed through the prayer book with Hebrew on one side and Spanish on the other, I was reminded of the part of Judaism that I feel most connected to, which is its ability to bring people together. The prayers and songs are always in Hebrew, a trait that lends itself to a unique universality. Any Jew, regardless of his or her native tongue, reads and chants in the same language.
After services, the Rabbi unexpectedly and kindly invited us to his home for Shabbat dinner. We were served a five-course meal (obviously I wrote down the menu: fish, assorted salads, matzo ball soup, brisket—delicious, but don’t worry mom, nothing will ever compare to yours—and a baked pear drizzled with chocolate). Consequently, I left dinner practically unable to walk because I was so full; this was easily one of the greatest meals I’ve had in BA / in my life. But the best part of dinner (besides the food) occurred when the Rabbi generously invited us to his home for a Seder after learning we did not have plans for Pesach.
I spent the rest of the weekend eagerly and nervously anticipating Monday. While I was incredibly excited to see what a Seder led in Castellano would be like, I also knew the Seder would be more traditional than any I’d ever attended. Yet two days later, as I’m writing this post, I can honestly say it was one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had.
When I say this was a multi-cultural Seder, I mean that in every sense of the word. About forty-five people of different nationalities, backgrounds, and languages sat around a long, beautifully set table. An important part of any Passover Seder is that everyone’s voice is heard, thus the Rabbi called for each guest to read aloud from the Haggadah. He began his part in Castellano, but as we continued, the readings shifted from Portuguese to British-English, American-English, and Hebrew. I read my passage in Spanish, all the while marveling at how happy and content I was to be sharing this Seder with literally a group of strangers.
Even though I only knew four people in the room, the flowing vino—and I mean flowing, for Passover is not a holiday that skimps on wine consumption—made conversation easy and also genuinely fun. I’ll admit, I felt a bit homesick while singing Dayenu (nothing can ever compare to the ridiculous singing at my family Seder), but the fact that a group of people who had meet little over an hour ago were all rather boisterously singing together exemplifies the universal nature of Judaism that I find most appealing. The traditions, no matter if you’re in New York or Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv, are mostly the same. And let me tell you, the constant asking of “what page are we on?” in the Haggadah doesn’t change either.
The food, once again, was incredible, but the sense of communal celebration is what I was most touched by. Over 5,000 miles from home, I have not yet felt as grounded and close to my family, despite the separation, as I did on Monday evening. From all over the world, a group of Jews was brought together in Buenos Aires to celebrate our heritage, which, especially as an American without many specific cultural ties to Argentina, was immensely meaningful. To conclude a Seder, we often end with “next year in Jerusalem,” a phrase which contains a variety of interpretations. Personally, I think “next year in wherever you might be celebrating Passover,” would suffice, because if I learned anything from this Seder, it is that you can feel connected to your beliefs, heritage, and your family no matter how far away from home you actually are.