Canada is Hockey (Mike Weir)
So here is my dilemma: Should I be addressing the results of our recent national elections here in Israel, or should I be referring to the Passover holiday that is fast approaching? Politics and Passover, surely there must be some sort of subliminal connection. Back home in Canada, politics is taken very seriously, unless, of course, it comes in conflict with the nation’s true obsession – that would be, hockey; more specifically, Stanley Cup Hockey. Where but in Canada could a federal election debate be rescheduled because of a Montreal Canadiens’ first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins? That actually happened in April of 2011. If you ask me, that is one nation that has its priorities in order.
As to the subject of Pesach, ask any true blooded Canadian of the Jewish persuasion what comes to mind when he thinks of the Passover holiday, more than likely the answer will be – yeah, you guessed it – Stanley Cup Hockey. Exaggerating a tad, perhaps, but as sure as I will be having matzah balls in my chicken soup this coming seder night, I will also be thinking of my beloved Montreal Canadiens.
Passover is arguably the most family oriented of all the Jewish celebrations. According to a Central Bureau of Statistics survey for 2010, 82% of Israeli Jews who self-identify as secular attend a Passover seder. And why not? Passover heralds the return of spring and with it the promise of rebirth and the hope of redemption. No other holiday matches Passover for its dietary restrictions or its culinary ingenuity. Just the other day, I noticed online a recipe for a dish called, Passover Hockey Pucks. I kid you not. You can check it out for yourself on a site called Vegetarians 4 Dinner. Too bad my Bubbe hadn’t caught sight of that little gem while we were growing up.
Our seders were pretty conventional as far as seders go. My Zaida kept scrupulously to the script even if most of my relatives had no idea what he was singing. I remember him actually sobbing when he read aloud the part of the Haggadah that highlights the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt. Some of my cousins were also grieving, but their sorrow had more to do with the plight of the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs than with the suffering of our forefathers.
I can’t deny it. Stanley Cup hockey was a staple of my childhood seders as much as was my Bubbe’s incredible gefilte fish. All the same, I should emphasize that in no way did these seders ever play second fiddle to whatever game happened to be playing on the TV screen. On the contrary, my grandparents took great pride in arranging and conducting a very proper seder. Their festive, holiday table ran the length of the entire dining room and the adjoining living room. Those of us who sat close to my Zaida at the head of the dining room were treated to a traditional service, without any edits. On the other hand, those who chose to sit at the very foot of the table in front of the television were able to deftly balance their adherence to Jewish ceremony with their Canadian nationalism. On occasion, the solemnity of some proscribed ritual was punctuated by the muted cry of the TV sports announcer’s: “He shoots. He scores.” After quickly assessing the latest hockey development, we returned, unfazed, to continue our journey to freedom.
These days, there are no hockey games accompanying our family seder. We’ve moved on. Instead, the message I carry with me from my grandparent’s seder, apart from giving up on the Leafs, is one of inclusion. Kol Dichfin… Kol Ditzrich… “Whoever is hungry – let him come and eat! Whoever is needy – let him come and celebrate Passover!” Everyone was welcomed at their table, and everyone came. At the conclusion of the Second World War, my grandparent’s house on Rebecca Street was known as a way station for Holocaust survivors who arrived in Hamilton to restart their broken lives. These people never forgot my Bubbe’s and Zaida’s kindness and generosity. On Pesach night, many of them made their way to my grandparent’s seder to show their respect, to sit in on a song or two, and to share a cup of tea with a shtikel lemon.
It has been almost thirty years since Lori and I moved to Jerusalem from Toronto. We’ve managed to raise five strapping young men, but to my regret, none of my boys share my enthusiasm for the sport of my childhood – to this day I still cannot wrap my head around this country’s obsession with the game of soccer. Each year, when Passover comes around, I am reminded of the true blessings that I am grateful for as a parent. When I look around our seder table, I can honestly kvell (to beam with pride) safe in the knowledge that each of our sons, each in their own unique way, conducts their daily lives with that message of inclusion that was so lovingly transmitted by my own grandparents.
A joyous Passover to all!