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Jewish Journal

South Seas Seder

by Daniel Brookman

April 8, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Daniel Brookman reads from the hagaddah at a seder in Fiji.

Daniel Brookman reads from the hagaddah at a seder in Fiji.

Namotu is a little speck of an atoll barely three acres in area, about the size of a typical shopping center. It's part of the South Pacific island nation of Fiji, and it's where my group of surfing lawyers decided to spend our annual legal seminar/surf trip last year.

As the date for the trip approached, I realized that I would be away from my family for Passover. Having never missed a family seder in my life, I began having second and third thoughts. I sent an e-mail to my fellow travelers, asking if anyone would be interested in participating in a seder while in Fiji. Many replied that they would.

On the day preceding Passover on Namotu, I posted a notice on a well-worn bulletin board: "Passover seder tonight." I figured about 20 of the 25 individuals in our group were Jewish and they would be attending.

That afternoon, I was approached by a Fijian man. He saw the notice and wanted to talk to me. He explained that many Fijians were devout Methodists, having only within the last 100 years given up their previous religious belief and the practice of cannibalism. They were very interested in the Passover experience and were themselves preparing for Good Friday and Easter Sunday observances.

The locals were expecting their annual visit from the minister and informed him by radio of the seder. He asked the Fijians to ask me if I could spare any matzahs for use in their observance as the sacrament. I told him of course, and I would consider it an honor if any of the Fijians would like to attend the seder.

As the time for the seder approached, the small boats began to arrive. The native women were attired in their finest dresses, with their black hair exotically done. The men, who usually wore shorts and T-shirts, showed up in their finest shirts and sarongs.

The tables were beautifully set -- outdoors, under the night sky -- with the finest linens, napkins and china. Where such things came from, I had no idea. The haggadahs and kippot were distributed and the seder began. As the readings progressed around the table, I thought of my family, friends and past seders. They were all memorable, all special, but this night was truly different from all other seder nights.

One of our boatmen, Wonga, stood at the table wearing his finest flowered sarong and white shirt. With kippah in place, he held up the matzahs. He pronounced in halting English, "Lo, this is the bread of affliction."

I glowed.

Everyone enjoyed themselves and talked about the seder for many days afterward. The natives told me this was probably the first seder in Fiji -- or certainly on Namotu -- and they wouldn't forget it.

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