Passover, Community and Celebration in the Australian Bush

  • Team Schusterman

May 14, 2015

  • Jewish Holidays

This story comes to us from Moishe House, an organization that trains, supports and sponsors young Jewish leaders as they create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers. 

Asher Lederman, 29, is a resident of Moishe House Melbourne. Below is his reflection from a recent Passover Seder experience held in collaboration with ConFest, a communal festival that took place in the Australian bush. 

It started with a phone call. I, a resident at Moishe House Melbourne, was calling my old friend Julian, to offer to help with the Pesach Seder at Confest. And now you’re asking yourself, what on earth is Confest? I could explain it in words, but suffice to say, it’s a festival that has to be seen to be believed.

Julian and I met up on the lawns of Caulfield Monash University to chat over some initial details. We spoke about the last big Confest Seder, where over a hundred people from all walks of life sat under a custom built geodesic dome beneath the starry night, and talked and sang until the moon was directly above.

Our planning started modestly. We held meetings at the House where we discussed ideas from building “altars” for the Seder plates, to developing a special Haggada just for that night. In the lead up to the event, I saw the passion and eagerness of our community members and friends to celebrate our traditions. One friend offered to sew costumes together, another organised decorations, another put time into researching for the service, and the list goes on and on. We amassed a squadron of helpers! And the donations—wow—don’t get me started! Everyone took on their share of things about which they felt most passionate.

These days my young Jewish friends who want to participate in a communal Seder need to make a compromise with their parents that goes something like this:

“Mum, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Is it alright for me to head into the Australian bush to run the Second Night Seder?”

“Oh Asher, what can I do? In a way, this is your job, so how can I stand in your way.”

“I guess so. Thanks mum, much appreciated!”

Well that’s probably not how it goes down in most families, but I can say that a compromise like that was made for a good share of the young people who joined us in the outback. And they would not regret it.

On the day of the event, my friend Simon and I arrived late in the afternoon, about two hours before the Seder was set to start. At first I felt a need to rush around, mostly out of uncertainty. It was unclear to me what state our helpers were in. But with every smile and “hello” from those I dashed past, I felt the Confest spirit wash over me, reminding me that this Seder would work out just fine. Everyone there had such good intentions!

We then carried a large cooler across the dusty field. That cooler contained a 14kg block of frozen potato soup, 200 hard boiled eggs and a LOT of lettuce. After traversing the festival space, we came upon the Family Tent, a 6x12 metre space where the Passover event was going to run. At 5PM, there were dozens of kids painting, drawing and playing with crafts in a space that needed to be dramatically transformed into a recumbent cushion-based paradise in just a short amount of time.

Yet, thankfully, all of our helpers walked, stumbled or skipped down to the event space to meet up and help out for the big night. Unbeknownst to me, it was also the night of the blood moon rising, a near total lunar eclipse.

The soup was my task. In record speed, I smashed and scraped apart that ice block of a potato soup at the nearby communal kitchen. Our set-up crew got the space and the food ready and the place looked clean and amazing. People began to arrive.

The night eventually commenced with the drinking of the first of four cups of wine. I crouched down in front of over 60 people and held a silver goblet aloft, calling out the Hebrew blessing. Then, I explained the symbolism of the Seder plate items.   

Looking out and interacting with the crowd, I noticed there were people who were there out of respect for tradition and sentimentality. Some were curious and some passers-by just wanted to be part of something meaningful.

Like all Seders prior to this one, we asked the Why questions, sang the songs of our forefathers and ate the traditional foods. Everyone had opportunities to speak up and share their ideas of freedom and to express their creativity through ovation or performance. We also had a talented guitar player who added to the warm feeling of the night.

Beyond the awe we all felt there sitting and talking amongst so many friends and strangers, there was another feeling running through the family tent that night. I felt it most strongly towards the end, when many of us moved out of the tent and gazed up—Bachatzot Ha’laylah, at the Hebrew midnight—in unison, looking up as the moon turned bright red. The guitar was strumming, and we were swaying and smiling as one in a red-white glow. It was a feeling of bliss.

As we are talking about Pesach and Confest, I think it’s appropriate to reminisce on this story from a spiritual perspective. That Saturday night in the Australian bush, talking around the theme of freedom, was like a mantra of sorts. Each person offered their own effort under the same theme, and this was rewarded with the blissful feeling of unity, of community with all others, under our one and only moon. May there be many more unforgettable Seders like ours.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.

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