The Community Organizer, the youngest among us, lights the candles, signaling the beginning of the Seder, ceremonial meal of Passover.
The educated, urbane banter ceases for a time among the twelve women, aged thirty five to ninety-six, gathered around the table. We reluctantly put down our weapons and defenses: our jokes; our political analyses of BC’s neoliberal Liberals; our complaints about our jobs or our sex lives that mark our bodies and our souls.
We are reduced to ritual.
We take turns reading the Haggadah, rewritten by the Anti-Poverty Activist into a socialist feminist text in the tradition of secular Judaism. It draws from sources as diverse as The Women’s Haggadah by E.M. Broner, and a Haggadah edited by her grandfather and translated into English by her father. Words like liberation, slavery, freedom, intifada, and human rights fill our mouths, as familiar and unfamiliar as the charoset we eat halfway through the ceremony.
This is family too. Like any family, there are new and old faces. The Film Editor is as permanent in my life as any blood relative, the raucous evenings of wine and cigarettes we’ve shared as crucial to me as any family gathering. The Queer Organizer, whom I’ve known for over twenty years is in Vancouver unexpectedly for a funeral, an ex-lover who’s died of cancer. Her face glows with grief, vulnerability, and her own steadfast humour, as she holds the afikomen aloft.
The Bartender, experiencing her first Seder, watches the proceedings closely, as though memorizing each moment. She co-owns a local cafe that has become as comfortable for me as my mother’s livingroom.The Elder fiddles with her hearing aid, tells us wryly and without self pity what a nightmare this contraption is.
We write down modern-day plagues, read them to each other. Poverty. Colonialism. Capitalism. Homelessness. Not Believing in Yourself. Cancer comes up twice.
We read, drink wine, dip parsley in salt water. We wash one anothers’ hands. And finally, dig in to roast chicken and potatoes, tsimmes and salad.
By the end of the evening there is a sweet, lovely energy in the room. Twelve women, one conversation. There is no competitiveness, no sarcasm, no complaining. It is as though the prophet Elijah himself, bearer of hope and good tidings, has entered the room through the open door.
The smell of rain, of earth, of cedars, and of roast chicken, floats serenely in the air.