Shanghai Seder


For those of you who don’t know, the Seder is the Passover dinner. It means “the order”. It is a tradition in my family that I believe I’ve spoken of before, but this year was my first time I’d ever thought of leading one.

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Being in Shanghai can sometimes be the worst when I miss my family. I avoid speaking to them when I miss them, because it just makes it worse. This year, I was thinking of my family and the lack of Seder in my life at Easter and I proposed to my small group leaders (Emily and Angus) that we do one. Emily’s response was, “You’d have to lead it.”

*Loud swallowing noise* I get nervous about leading. I seriously know the Lord’s presence in my life when I lead because I suck at it and somehow people always get something out of it.

The Haggadah (the telling) makes leading the Seder easier, but I was the only one who had done it before and I wasn’t sure what I needed to clarify. Emily is always helpful to have around because she asks questions for the group, when she knows people don’t understand.

It was decided we’d do it and I’d lead if Emily would be the mother and light the candles and speak bad Hebrew. We told the group, got food sign ups going and it was a set event.

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The day before I was going to shop for matzah. Someone had told me that Avocado Lady had it and so I hadn’t worried. However, as I sat at my desk checking off a mental list a horrendous thought crept its way in. What if she didn’t have it. Where would I find matzah in Shanghai??!! I began to frantically search on the internet for places that had it. I came to realize a few important things. There were a few places for Jews to worship in Shanghai, which is cool. I learned quite a bit about the history of Jews in China. And I learned that none of those places had an internet presence AT ALL. Searches for stores or restaurants that sold matzah were futile and I began to slowly panic. WE COULDN’T HAVE A SEDER WITHOUT MATZAH. LIFE WAS OVER.

I am the queen of hyperbole in all forms. Finally I started emailing. I emailed the three synagogues I had found online and I began to email every restaurant that served matzah ball soup. They had to make the balls from something right? After I emailed everyone I could think of, it was time for class and I pushed it out of my mind with a prayer. The Lord would provide, even if I had to make the matzah myself (I had bookmarked several recipes, just in case).

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After three or four classes my email “ding”-ed. It was from Tock’s Deli. The lovely lady informed me that they used matzah meal, but they got it from a store. And that store had Wechat. I WAS SAVED! She told me that they had boxes from last year’s Seder but that they wouldn’t get the new stuff until April to get ready for Seder this year. I was thrilled. I searched for the shelf-life of matzah online and found that generally it lasted for two years. BRILLIANT. I decided to taxi my way over there and she kept the shop open for me to get there and take a few boxes off her hands.

A big box and a little box was ¥100. That’s a lot of cash people. But I was so overjoyed to have found it, I didn’t care. I waltzed out of there and dashed home to make charoset with one of my new kindred spirit friends, Maddie.

The next day I made chicken with another kindred spirit friend, Pekka (who I discovered, is a culinary genius despite all his modesty) and we got all the remaining things we needed. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I remembered that we’d need cups to hold the salt water and added it to my mental list of things to do.

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Literally seconds after I remembered, Taisa sent me a voice message saying that she had brought home some mouthwash sized cups in case we needed them. I started laughing and messaged her back that Jesus knew and I had a specific use for those. Eggs, parsley, horseradish, etc made their way into two large bags and were carted by my Finnish friend to Taisa’s.

I was so exhausted by this point, I could have collapsed. Not joking. I was having some serious emotional mood swings that I somehow kept covered with a happy face and some light hysteria. It may have come across as me being manic. Plates were readied. I rested for a bit. Then all the food began to arrive.

Sam brought couscous and a delicious Indian chicken/rice dish. I made broccoli. Lydia brought mashed potatoes. Everyone brought wine. Deji brought sausages. Taisa also made this amazing apple crumble that looked soooo good. We hid it all in the kitchen for later and my heart began to feel light. People arrived. I settled. More people arrived. I took a deep breath and called for their attention.

The start was awkward. I wasn’t sure how to do this really, but I managed to get through the introduction with important history. No one else had done this, so I took some time to explain the words, the history, and made sure to read the parts that we normally skipped.  I tripped over my tongue a few times and laughed with everyone when we drank before we were supposed to. We drank wine, we spoke together, we read Scripture. And right before dinner, Nessa walked in. She had been sick and seeing her made my heart feel even more than I already did. I wanted to cry.

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Then we ate. Oh my goodness, we ate. It wasn’t kosher. It wasn’t what I normally ate at Seder, but it was some of the best food I’d ever had. Taisa, Sam, and I rushed to throw dishes into the microwave to reheat and bring them out for the masses. More people arrived. Finally I found myself on the floor looking and listening to all the beautiful people in my life. And I realized my heart wasn’t light anymore. It was full. Full to the brim with love and joy and contentment.

God was in that place in every conversation. He was showing love through the gestures, the words, the laughter, the smiles, the quiet moments, the wine, the hugs, the food. And I can honestly say I’ve never felt so full of all of the good things.

I posted on Facebook that it was the best day of my life. I know, better than most, that writers shouldn’t use hyperbole often. Superlatives are not for us. “Best”, “worst”, “favorite”, these are words that should be used sparingly and I don’t. I use them all the time. Because I’m a fickle creature and my favorite shifts like the wind. The best and worst are defined by my circumstances, not by any other standards. However, this day really was the best.

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I have found a family here. I don’t know any of them very well. Some of them just got here and are leaving very soon. Some have been here for years and have put up walls because so many people come and go in their lives. It doesn’t matter. They are my family. Because I’m coming to realize that knowing someone well doesn’t mean much when it comes to God’s family. We are brothers and sisters. Period. That means acting like it even when we don’t know each other. Even when we don’t necessarily like each other. On good days, bad days, and all the gray days in-between. And my Rhema Reign group acts like this most of the time.

I don’t know if words can convey it all to you. I doubt it. But, dear readers, God is here. He is present in my China life. He is present in Shanghai. He is always with me and I don’t think I needed the reassurance more. Thank you, my beautiful Shanghai family for a night above all other nights.

Next year in Jerusalem.

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