by Erica Lyons
In Hong Kong, there are certainly some inconveniences involved in finding every last product necessary to recreate the Pesach we had in New York. But, we have found it is merely a matter of mastering logistics and advance planning. Sometimes it involves finding shlepers coming in from the States willing to take a few bulky boxes of tasteless Crispy O’s and Streits Brownie Mix in an extra suitcase. This is all part of the Hong Kong festival ritual.
Communal Sedarim here are not cold, lonely events for a few lone wanders. We are all strangers in a strange land and participation in communal Sedarim are part of our new Easterly landscape. Living far from our extended family, counter-intuitively we find that our Seder tables do not get smaller here, but exponentially grow and expand with friends from around the world with unique foods and tunes of their own to share. Around the table reading the Haggadah there are Americans, British, French, Yemenites, Israelis, Swiss, Belgians and Indians. It is a time to create original family traditions that blend the old with the new, the West with the East.
For our family, it is also time to take out the Moshe Rabbeinu Lego. This is not part of the latest Adventurers Egypt Set. It is an entirely original product of our own “wandering” through the Far East for eight years. One of the incidental advantages of raising Jewish children in the Far East is the relative absence of Christian culture and symbolism. A couple of years back, my father-in-law brought us a mixed box of old Legos that his neighbor had given him. My children eagerly poured through it, sifting though random bits of Lego past when my then six-year old daughter exclaimed that she had found the most special piece of Lego ever, a Moshe Rabbeinu. She clutched it in her hand and ran into her room to hide her precious find from her brothers. For days, she would barricade her door and only take Moshe Rabbeinu out when she was certain it was safe. All we heard about was this Moshe Rabbeinu figurine.
My pragmatic seven-year old, a naysayer from the start, was insistent that there was no such thing as a Moshe Rabbeinu Lego piece. To backup his declaration, he did a Google search followed by a detailed study of the Lego website. He needed final proof and he burst into her room, tackling her to the ground, prying the figure from her hands.
Quickly responding to break up the fight and to finally see said Moshe Rabbeinu for myself, I find my son on the floor in a fit of hysterics that has brought him to tears. For a moment, I am uncertain whether he is actually crying or laughing. Barely able to catch his breath and speak through his hysterics, he yells out, “It’s not Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s Santa Claus!”
In tears, my daughter cries out, “Santa Claus? I don’t even know what that is. It is Moshe Rabbeinu! Right Mommy? See. He’s got the long white beard.” She recovers the red suited, wide black-belted, white bearded figure and holds him up for my inspection.
She is six and has never heard of Santa Claus! The Easter Bunny doesn’t exist in her consciousness. A Christmas tree or a red wreath in a shopping mall would both likely go unnoticed or be summarily categorized as early Chinese New Year decorations in her head.
I carefully examine the figure and respond to her, “Without the packaging, I can’t be 100% certain. You could be right.”
My seven-year old, now frustrated cries out, “This is ridiculous. Why would Moshe Rabbeinu wear a red snow suit?”
With uninhibited faith she immediately responds, “Duh. The desert is very cold at night.”
I know that soon, even here, without the Charlie Brown specials, colorful televised parades and watered-down quasi-religious public school classroom “holiday” celebrations, she will learn what the Easter Bunny is and know what a Christmas tree is. But for now, I can continue to raise her in a Jewish bubble, eating kosher l’Pesach egg noodles with chopsticks.
Erica Lyons is the Hong Kong-based founder of Asian Jewish Life – a journal of spirit, society and culture for and about Jews in the Far East. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to also check out Erica’s previous article, Zionism: Made in China, on her personal journey from New Jersey to Hong Kong.