The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

people (lateness seems to bridge every culture and location) and some last-minute changes to the guest list, the grand moment was at hand. Sharing the Ancient Jewish Story The ceremony includes many long passages and storytelling. Because of the variety of English abilities among the guests, I know much of the story was lost due to linguistic and cultural boundaries. Of course, that is true even for an English-speaking Ameri- can audience attending the ceremony for the first time. The ceremony is simply not one that can be fully appreciated during the first attempt. But that doesn’t matter. No one has to understand everything in a new experience to have a good time. I began with a verse from Isaiah and the following paragraph: We are born. We quickly learn to smile and cry as lessons come our way. Life pours out blood. Violence stains. Wisdom refreshes. Loss weakens. Love rejuvenates. Blessings abound. The script I wrote could have been shorter and simpler, but I never seem to think of a phrase that I would not rather say with three or four sen- tences. That’s my PD challenge. Guests shared the reading of the ancient Jewish story, which follows Moses’ life from his childhood spent as Egyptian royalty; his midlife as a shepherd, which occurs after he flees to the wilderness because he mur- dered a cruel slave master; his first encounter with God; and his return to Egypt to save the Israelites from slavery. The tales include a variety of miracles, including a burning bush; 10 harsh plagues such as an epidemic of boils, an infestation of frogs and the killing of the Egyptians’ first- born; and the most famous moment, the parting of the Red Sea, which provides the opportunity for the Israelites to make a final escape. The many plot points inspire the guests to debate important ethical issues by analyzing the choices of both God and Moses. These ele- ments of the lengthy biblical passages have also become part (in different ways) of the Christian and Muslim traditions. The script that I gave to each guest included photos from my trips in India, Brazil and China, showing that the subtext of the story is applicable to many cultures and time periods, and that the holiday’s themes of slavery and freedom are universal. The ritual has 16 steps, each with a special significance that guests can analyze and discuss. One of my favorites is the dipping of a green vegetable, such as parsley or cucum- bers, into a bowl of salty water. Symbolically, life and spring are immersed in the tears shed during this painful time, reminding everyone that life is a constant blend. No moment is ever completely satisfying or completely devastating. Another popular phase of the cer- emony is the hand washing. Tradition- ally, this part emphasizes the unity of the whole group. Strangers hand a towel to another person or pour water over another person’s hands. Once a person’s hands are washed, he or she remains silent until everyone has had a chance to wash, so that everyone can start the meal together. We read the story, said the prayers, and ate plenty of traditional food — except for gefilte fish, alas — and added some excellent Chinese dishes. We lit candles without setting off the sprinklers. I even loudly and enthusi- astically sang in my horrendous singing voice. At least I didn’t have to sing in Chinese. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhausting but fantastic night, and I am sure I will have another Seder next year. As at every party, gathering or representational event, I noticed plenty of kinks and little mistakes, but I also saw plenty of smiles and curi- ous but appreciative eyebrows. A Simple Moment to Remember Diplomats serve many functions when abroad. Sometimes they accomplish challenging goals with complex programs during a period of weeks, months or years. Sometimes, they have just a single moment to make an impression, and they aren’t always sure what they achieved. They just hope they have planted small seeds that will continue to grow. I know that for many of my Chinese friends, I am the only American they have ever known and certainly the only Jew. What will they remember? I do not know. I can only hope that my guests (and especially my foreign friends) will occasionally reminisce about that American Jew who opened his home and his life to them one April day in 2006. Next year I’ll be back in Washing- ton. I will have another chance to perform the ceremony even better. I probably will not have a large room filled with foreign minds, inquisitive giggles and covered mouths; but I can look forward to one thing that will not change. I will still have the opportunity to share my special life story as an American, something this job gives every diplomat the privi- lege of doing throughout the world. L’chaim! To life! 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 63 The ritual has sixteen steps, each with a special significance that guests could analyze and discuss.