Why is this night different from all other nights?
When I think of my favorite family memories, my mind goes almost instantly to Passover.
My Uncle Rob deftly and brilliantly leading us through the Haggadah. My Aunt Susie’s phenomenal spinach pie and decadent spinach gratin. The hunt for the afikoman (hidden matzah). The second hunt for the afikoman after I cried when I didn’t find the first one. Watching my dad and my Uncle Freddy play pool together after dinner. Beating my cousins at N64 Donkey Kong Racing only to find out years later that my controller was never plugged in. My grandma’s hilarious jokes and pink Zinfandel. My mom and aunt laughing so hard they cry, every single year.
My Jewish faith guides me in every aspect of my life. I try so hard to give back, to help others, to treat everyone with kindness. I know that I fall short sometimes, but I’m never going to stop trying. Anyway, I could talk ad nauseaum about my beliefs (literally–one time I puked while having a discussion about religion).
So it’s easy to understand why I was apprehensive about spending my first Passover in Togo, thousands of miles away from my family. Honestly, every holiday away from home is hard.
But so far, my Peace Corps service has so auspiciously given me the chance to celebrate every holiday with the people I love.
Independence Day with my entire intake group;
My birthday with my best village friend, who coincidentally has the same birthday;
Thanksgiving with our intake group again;
Chanukah with some of my closest friends in Togo;
and Valentine’s Day with some guy that smiled at me on an airplane en route to Morocco.
Luckily, Passover was no exception! Eleven of the people from my stage (what we call our intake group–it rhymes with dodge) were in Lomé, the Baltimore of West Africa, for a Training of Trainers. Unbelievably, in only a month, there will be an entirely new group of Peace Corps Trainees in country!
Our country’s Peace Corps Director of Management and Operations incredibly generously invited us all to his house for a Seder while we were in town, and we so eagerly took him up on his incredibly kind offer.
Having only very recently graduated from the kids’ table, helping to prepare the entire dinner was overwhelming. Armed with my aunt’s famous spinach gratin recipe and a packet of matza ball mix, I braved the kitchen and gave it my best Peace Corps try. In the end, the food was AMAZING.
And the Seder was phenomenal, too! My good friend Sam wrote the Haggadah, filled with Peace Corps jokes and inspiring stories. I even teared up at one point!
At the end of the dinner was my favorite tradition: the hunt for the afikoman, the hidden piece of matzah! I usually add my own twist on this tradition by throwing a tantrum every year after I don’t find the afikoman, but this year I refrained.
Something that made this Seder extra meaningful was the fact that seated among us were many non-Jews and non-Peace Corps members. Getting to share two of the most important parts of my life was incredibly rewarding.
At the end of the Seder every year, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” It reminds us that we can always be striving for something better and to never forget our homeland.
But for me? I never thought I’d be able to say “This year in Togo.” My heart is full. 🇹🇬❤