Passover in Mumbai

“Hey. Last minute Passover seder tonight. You interested?”

I got the above text from my friend Ben at 6:32 PM last night. Needless to say, we were. By the end of the night, we were able to answer a range of questions, from “what happens when you mix up 3 American Jews, 2 Catholics, 1 half-Jewish, half-Indian American, 2 Indian-Indians, and 1 Japanese for a Seder?” (answer: keep reading) to “how will matzah react in the humidity of South India?” (answer: it gets soggy, fast) to “does wasabi count as the bitter herbs on your seder plate?” (answer: not sure, but tastes damn good in a Hillel sandwich). The four questions, they were admittedly not. But it was definitely a night to remember.

It was impromptu to say the least. Ben and his friend Madeline were cooking, having called up their friend Mugumi to ask – innocently enough – “can we do a seder at your place tonight?” I’m not sure Mugumi knew what she was getting into, but she said yes. Adrienne brought the apples and made charoset. Stephanie and I grabbed a box of matzah and a loaf of mandel bread that I’d just brought back from the states (thanks, Mom!). We called the wine delivery guy, and had them bring over a few bottles.

When we arrived at Mugumi’s, Ben was in the throes of soup-making, standing in the kitchen in his undershirt, sweating. I thought: this is not unlike what Aaron must have experienced during the 40 years in the desert, cooking up a big pot of manna for the Israelites. Ben continued soup-ifying, while Adrienne chopped nuts and apples. Madeline, Stephanie and I debated the best way to roast an egg for the seder plate. We went with the direct-on-flame approach:

The egg roasted; we nabbed a chicken bone from Ben’s soup collection and co-opted it as a lamb shank. Parsley, salt water, now-finished charoset? Check, check, check. Bitter herbs…? Mugumi stepped in, offering her jar of wasabi. Check!

The soup was finished. Ben and Madeline whipped up some spinach and potatoes, both Indian-style. I put out the matzah to start wilting in the humidity. We poured the first of our glasses of wine. No offense to Sula, but it’s not the best stuff in the world; I tipped in a half glass of Thums-Up and made myself a calimocho. Additional cross cultural seder points: count it.

Ben, Madeline and I co-led the seder, conjuring up the story of Exodus as best we could from the depths of our Hebrew school trainings and our collective 60+ seders we’d attended through the years. We said some blessings; we talked about why the Jews had been in Egypt in the first place. Miriam, Moses, the burning bush, “let my people go” – got that as well. We managed to remember the 10 plagues (and confirmed them via wikipedia). Wine was spilled out, accordingly, then re-filled and consumed, also accordingly.

All in all, it was a great night. Next year in Jerusalem? Perhaps. But next year in Mumbai? You couldn’t do better, in my book. More photos from the night:

Seder plate:

Adrienne and Madeline:

Seder storytelling:

Seder storytelling (2):

At the end of the night:


About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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One Response to Passover in Mumbai

  1. Minna Katz says:

    You could not have had a better seder!!
    That is the magic of Passover-to sit and retell the story of our freedom from slavery,with good friends,and good food,and the collective memories of seders past!!
    Loved it all!!
    Just back,at 1 AM from the 1st seder,with relatives,and to bed.
    Tomorrow night,a 2nd seder,with friends of Jan’s and Peter’s who were kind enough to include us.
    Enjoy the rest of the week!!
    Love, us

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