When we arrived at the hotel, we saw just as many tables set up here as at the Chabad house
. We were early so we were able to choose a table near the centre of the room. Some of the people we met yesterday at Chabad told us there would only be a few other English speaking people coming and they would try to seat us together. Shortly after we sat down, a really nice family from Switzerland came and sat with us. The husband was born and raised in Switzerland, the wife was born and raised in Israel and their three children have only ever lived in Switzerland, but visit Israel often and attend a Canadian/American international school. Thankfully, this meant we could converse in English while we waited for the Seder to begin and we really enjoyed chatting with this couple. They also spent some time living in New York until shortly after September 11th, 2001. They lived so close to the Twin Towers that one of them saw the second plane slam into the tower. Thierry, the husband worked in a 3rd World Trade tower beside the other two (it was NOT hit by a plane), but he was running late that day and was still at home. Nobody from his building was directly injured from the attack, but his company lost a couple people who were making deliveries in the other towers when the planes crashed.
Once the sender began, we realized we had chosen a good place to sit, as the man leading the Seder stood on a chair literally right behind me. The entire Seder was in Hebrew, so Jason and I could follow in the Haggadah (traditional Passover book), but could only understand a couple words here and there
. I always say that being able to read Hebrew is the most useless skill I have because I can't understand what I read at all! Luckily, the woman at our table helped by letting us know when it was time to eat each of the traditional Passover foods and when to be pouring our glasses of wine. Since they had three young kids with them (aged 11, 8, and 4), they left fairly early in the evening, leaving Jason and I alone a large table with the leader of the Seder readings right behind us and 500 pairs of eyes on him! Thankfully, shortly after this family left, another couple from Israel on their honeymoon came and sat with us. Again, we enjoyed our conversation with them.
The food were similar to home at Passover, especially the traditional foods like a green vegetable and matzah. But nothing is ever as good and familiar as home itself and so I did miss eating the hard boiled egg (there was only one symbolic one for the table here), charoseth (apples mixed with cinnamon, red wine, and nuts), and most of all the matzo ball soup. I enjoyed the foods we did have here tonight though. Similar to my mom's Seders, which usually host close to 30 people, everything was served on paper plates to ensure it's kosher for Passover. This was nice and familiar for me since my mom does this for the ease of cleaning up after so many people when everything is disposable or recyclable. However here, even the serving platters and wait staffs' trays were styrofoam and the tablecloths were covered with plastic wrap, just to be sure everything was kosher for Passover
As Jason and I followed in the Haggadah, admittedly getting lost a few times, it was fun to sing the familiar songs we know as well as listen to some we haven't heard before or to different tunes of familiar songs. A well followed tradition of Passover is to have the youngest child at the Seder sing a song that asks four questions about the holiday. The leader of this Seder invited all the children to come up and ask the questions together. It was really nice to listen to about 30 children sing the familiar song together and many of the adults joined in as well.
This was my second experience with the Chabad organization internationally, as I went to two Shabbat meals in Beijing 6 years ago. For Jason, this was his first time attending an international Chabad event. We both enjoyed it and everybody was so welcoming. For me, it's nice to have some familiarity when I'm away from home and to still be able to follow the traditions and customs I have been brought up with.
We took it easy today and didn't really do much of anything during the day, except for going to the gym for a good workout. In the evening, we headed back to the Jewish area of Koh Samui to attend the Seder. When we went the Chabad House office yesterday, we saw a ton of tables set up for the Seder and we were told there would be 500 people there tonight. This is not even the Seder we were attending. We went to a nearby hotel for another Seder along with another 500 people! I can't believe how many Jewish people are on this one island. I asked if there was a large Jewish community on Koh Samui and was told "not really", but apparently it's a really popular spot for Israelis to vacation and many have decided to stay longer and have started successful businesses here. What's even more crazy to me is that there are 5 islands with seders, all with equally large numbers in attendance.