Next Year in Herzliya Pituach

Anglo File asks the foreign envoys stationed in Israel where they spent seder night.

Forget learning about local customs, the Cameroon ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba has attended so many Passover seders at his friend's home in Jerusalem, he can actually be considered part of the tradition. As the longest serving ambassador in Israel - and for a period prior to that as charge d'affaires here - Etoundi Essomba has participated in the traditional Passover meal in the same household for many of the past 12 years.

"It's not the most observant affair, and with the children and grandchildren, it's a real carnival. Let's say the ambiance was more festive than one of praying," says Etoundi Essomba, neatly summarizing what was no doubt an accurate description of many homes across the country on Monday evening.

Etoundi Essomba, who was hosted by a retired Israeli diplomat and now long-standing family friend, is one of several ambassadors who joined families that follow the custom of inviting strangers to share in the holiday feast.

It was the first such experience for Australian ambassador James Larsen and his family, who arrived in Israel in October. They participated in their neighbors' seder in Herzliya Pituach. Danish ambassador A. Carsten Damsgaard and Chinese ambassador Chen Yonglong were also hosted by Israeli friends.

Italian ambassador Sandro De Bernardin describes his seder night experience as "quite moving," having arrived at his Israeli friends' home to find a Haggadah with both an Italian translation and Hebrew written in Latin letters.

"My wife and I were very touched to be invited to read from the Haggadah," De Bernardin told Anglo File. "There were 22 guests, including four other Italian speakers, who helped us become more familiar with the seder," he added.

For Canadian ambassador Jon Allen, one of a handful of Jewish envoys posted here, his first Passover in Israel was an opportunity to take a break from hosting a seder. Though he has a sister living in Israel, this year brought him to his wife's relatives in Ashdod.

"We got stuck in a 'pkak' [traffic jam] on the way and we were late. There were 25 of us, including grandchildren, a bride-to-be and a pregnant cousin. There was chicken soup, knaidlach and gefilte fish and it was a lot more raucous than any seder I've been to in North America," says Allen, proving he has indeed experienced an Israeli-style seder. The veteran diplomat, who has previously hosted seders during postings in Washington, Mexico City and Delhi, says next year he and his wife will return to hosting - this time at their residence in Herzliya Pituach.

Another Jewish envoy, El Salvadorian ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson, prepared a seder for 17 people at her residence in Jerusalem. "We had family, friends and the embassy's guard," she told Anglo File. "It was very traditional with a Hagaddah in Ladino for my mother, a Swedish one for my husband who is Finnish and a Russian one for the guard. I'm still tired from all the cooking, but it's the kind of work that gives pleasure," she added.

Several other ambassadors took the opportunity of the holiday lull in Israel to travel overseas. South African ambassador Major General Fumanekile Gqiba, Swedish ambassador Robert Rydberg and Indian ambassador Arun Kumar Singh are all out of the country for the Passover week.