The customs officer in Mexico rifled through my suitcase. Hagga-dahs, seder plate, candles and matzah — passed. Questionable, but also OK, was the Sephardic charoset made of dried fruit and nuts.
Then the officer unwrapped the items I had packed in foil and plastic wrap and labeled with adhesive tape. Parsley and raw horseradish?! Into the garbage. So too the roasted egg, but not without him wrinkling his nose.
My roasted lamb shank was the last item revealed. The officer stiffened. My husband, Moe, said, “It’s for a religious ritual.” The officer’s eyes swiveled back and forth, from the shank bone to us. Finally, he gave it the heave-ho and moved us along.
So there we were, in Playa del Carmen, in the Yucatan, when I announced to our family that we’d be having a seder. Several men from Moe’s mostly secular family grumbled, but his mother, sister-in-law, niece and her two girls lit up.
The resort set up a patio table for us, supplied salted water, celery and hard-boiled eggs. I couldn’t keep everyone on the page of the haggadah, nor enforce silence while savoring matzah, nor restrain the hungry masses from eating before it was time.
Nonetheless, we told the story, sang “Dayenu” and drank much wine — and even the disgruntled sighed happily. Without a lamb shank or bitter herbs, the seder wasn’t perfect — but memorable. For my next Mexico-to-go-seder, maybe salsa? I’ll have to ask my rabbi.
Pam Reitman lives in San Francisco and is the director of the Makor Or Jewish Meditation Center, which has retreats and morning meditations at the JCC of San Francisco. For more information, contact her at Pam@PamReitman.com.
This “Not home for the holiday” article was submitted in response to our request for memorable Jewish holiday experiences away from home. If you’ve got one (250 words maximum), please send it to Andy Altman-Ohr email@example.com or mail it to j., 225 Bush St., Suite 1480, San Francisco, CA 94104.