But I always felt that something was missing. Something to do with age old tradition - a mixture of unique song, dance, culinary delights and stories. This may sound strange from such an anti-social cultural outcast, as myself. But I have always wanted the opportunity to reject something, once tasted, rather than have it denied me, unseen.
So maybe Pesach (Passover) on the kibbutz was some sort of ironic justice. Picture this - the kibbutz dining hall overflowing with kibbutz members and their guests. A stage set up in the middle. The long tables decoratively covered with tablecloths and an assortment of plates and silverware. Matzah piling up on the tables. Rumblings from the kitchen promising more. The festivities begin. The reading of the watered down kibbutz version of the Hagaddah. Performances by kibbutz children, kibbutz members, more kibbutz children... One hour passes, two hours pass. It is 10 p.m. and we still haven't eaten anything, except for small pieces of matzah which we have managed to stuff into our mouths, trying not to crunch down too noisily. Now and then we reach a point in the Hagaddah where another glass of wine is raised. This may have quietened the noisy grumbling of our stomachs, had it not been that it was more grape juice than wine. My brother-in-law added his own touch of tradition by spiriting in a bottle of vodka each year to help us through the evening. We would try to get our pre-arranged seating by the window so that at some point, when his parents and others weren't watching, he could slip the bottle through the window to his sister, and she would then place it strategically on the floor. Their parents could never understand why our sour mood suddenly sweetened after that point. Although I do think that their mother - a tough sabra former officer in the Palmach - did know, as you couldn't get much past her without her knowing. But if so, she humoured us with her silence. She had rebelled against much more in her life than we could ever dream of doing. One year the bottle broke on the floor under the table, and the strong smell of vodka swept through our corner. My brother-in-law slid open the window to its fullest and tried to divert attention with one of his funny stories, while we painfully held back our laughter in our already tipsy state. I often envied those kibbutz members who went to celebrate the seder (Pesach dinner) with their families outside of the kibbutz, experiencing the more intimate Pesach celebration that I had only heard of.
But those years of celebrating Pesach in the kibbutz dining room are behind us, not only because we left the kibbutz long ago, but because most kibbutzim have become privatized and there are no longer communal meals in the dining room, let alone holiday celebrations. We now gather together, immediate and extended family, perhaps somewhat ironically at my brother-in-law's house where he (an excellent cook) puts together an impressive Pesach celebration. And the grape juice is replaced with real wine and the food served before the singing of Had Gadya and the search for the afikoman. There are times, though, when I sense him searching, out of habit, for that bottle of vodka to help him through the reading of the Hagaddah.