The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 61 radition! More than just a song from a Broadway musical, the word is the life-giving water of every culture and, indeed, every individual. Almost everyone who joins the Foreign Service does so because he or she is captivated by different cultures and the variety of time-honored celebrations and rituals around the globe. Like all religions, Judaism observes many holidays with particular customs. However, because Jews are a minority in the United States, non-Jews are often unfamiliar with the religion’s tenets and practices. Growing up in a small town with very few Jews, I had almost no friends who shared my background, so I began my own tradition. I started intro- ducing people to my favorite holiday, Passover (Pesach), by inviting friends and colleagues to come to my home for the complex and lengthy celebration called the Seder. This rite remembers much of the book of Exodus through metaphor. Participants eat certain foods, drink cer- tain liquids and follow a large variety of rules. For example, guests are supposed to relax, so pillows, comfortable chairs and even lying down are acceptable. A dish called charoset combines various sweet and bitter tastes and resembles the mortar used in creating ancient Egyptian buildings. Red drinks, such as wine or cranapple juice, symbolize the blood shed during the violent events. If you have ever seen “The Ten Commandments” or “Prince of Egypt,” you know some of the details of the story; but unless you have participated in a Seder, you cannot fully grasp all that the experience can offer. Each Ceremony Is Unique No two ceremonies are alike, even when the same host organizes the event. During my training at the Foreign Service Institute, I invited many of my A-100 colleagues and had different religious and non-religious backgrounds represented. When I was living in a tiny apartment in Spain, I conducted a ceremony in Spanish and Hebrew for a room full of Catholics. The joyous evening was so loud that the neighbors complained for days. For this year’s big event, I was living in a large diplomat- ic housing facility in Guangzhou, with thick walls, so I was no longer worried about noise complaints. On the other hand, I was concerned about creating a memorable event for a large variety of Chinese friends, acquaintances and colleagues. I even expanded the focus of the event by ask- ing professional journalists to attend. What better way to teach about the hospitality of Americans and the variety of American lifestyles than by inviting people to my home for food, drink and cultural education? The first difficulty I encountered was the size of my home, which certainly could not comfortably accommodate 20-plus people. No problem! A Mormon colleague offered M ANDARIN M ATZAH A N FSO PUTS A J EWISH CEREMONY TOGETHER IN G UANGZHOU WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM ATHEIST , B UDDHIST , C HRISTIAN AND M ORMON FRIENDS . T B Y J ASON S EYMOUR