A Passover Tale

I knew that when I decided to come to China for the year I would be giving a lot up religiously wise. China isn’t really known for its Jewish community so I knew that I wouldn’t have the religious surroundings that I had been used to in the States.

I’m pretty sure that I am the only Jew in a 500 mile radius. Many Chinese had a never met/heard of a Jew and many of my fellow teachers hadn’t really met or spent time with a Jew either. So as Passover was coming up I decided instead of going into Beijing to celebrate the seders with Chabad, I would lead my own seder for my friends here in Qinhuangdao.

This was going to be my first time leading a seder. In the past my father always lead our seders and I saw how much work he always put into them, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. So about two weeks before Passover, I started getting my materials together. My co-workers started joking that I was spending more time planning the seder than I was my actual classes.

The day of the seder I woke up early to clean my apartment. As many of you know I am not the cleanest guy around so our apartment wasn’t the cleanest thing. Cleaning took all morning. First with throwing out all the trash just lying around, then with the sweeping, and then I even broke out a mop and mopped the floors. I now understand why my mom always made us help her clean for the seders.


My friend Ben was the most excited about Passover. Ben is a Jehovah’s Witness, so being a religious guy he knew a little-bit about the story of Passover but was eager to learn more about the holiday. Ben had been doing some research and wanted to make the charoset so he asked if I could go shopping with him and since I needed some things too I went with Ben to the store to buy some things for the seder. Ben wanted to buy a fish for dinner so we went to the fish counter and saw a nice piece of salmon. We asked how much it was and they said 60. We thought, wow what a great price. What we didn’t know was that it was 60 RMB per half kilo. So it turned out to be a 177 RMB piece of fish in the end.

Being in China, Jewish items and kosher for Passover foods aren’t as easily available as they are in the States, so I had to improvise. First was with the kipot. My friends asked if the could have one. The problem was that I only had one real one. So I decided to make them kipot. I took pieces of paper and cut them into circles. I then made them into these funnel shaped kippot. As I was making them, I realized they looked like those stereotypical hats that Chinese workers were in the rice fields.


The second thing I had to improvise with was matzah. I matzah is a key part of Passover and the seders but it’s not like they sell it in the supermarkets. So instead of having actual matzah I printed pictures of matzah from the internet and used them instead. I also decided to find the driest, flattest, most tasteless cracker I could find to act as a substitute. I wanted my friends to at least get a sense of what matzah tasted like.

I also couldn’t find any marror, so instead of using horseradish I used wasabi.

I was able to burn my chametz, so I had a roasted egg and a roasted shank bone for my seder plate.


The actual seder went excellently. I made three handouts. The first was an English haggadah, the second was supplementary readings that I found, and the third were Passover songs. A funny thing happened totally by accident. I was online looking for Passover songs and out of all the Jewish websites out there I happen (I remind you totally by chance) to click on my synagogue, Adat Shalom’s website. It was nice because most of the songs were in transliteration so my friends were able to follow. The biggest hit of the night was a song I found about the ten plagues sung to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas.


                                                         eating marror/wasabi

To end the night I made a game called Jewpardy. I asked them questions about Passover and the seder and everyone did really well. They were able to answer all the questions. Overall, my seder was a huge success. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I felt a great sense of accomplishment conducting my own seder for the first time all on my own. I’m sure after reading this blog my dad will make me lead my family’s seder next year.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Passover. Chag Sam’each.


About JoelS

Spending a year teaching English and saving the world in China
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