This year was my first Passover in Jerusalem. At my seders last year, I still wasn’t sure whether I meant it when I said “next year in Jerusalem,” but this year I knew as I said it that I’d be staying for a second year. When I spoke with my mother a few days before the seder, she asked me to tell her what Passover in Jerusalem is like. So why was last Saturday night different from all other nights?

My girlfriend and I were invited to the home of an orthodox family, friends of hers for many years, who invited us as a couple. We were asked (as were all of the guests) to prepare a short d’var torah or tell a story at the seder; as they said, “there are no hosts or guests at the seder, we’re all on the same journey together.”

So I spoke about Moses, how he was really the original one of the four children who “does not know how to ask.” When god tells Moses to go bring the Israelites out of Egypt, he initially refuses. The torah describes Moses as “uncircumcised of lips,” which is sometimes translated as “slow of speech,” and understood to mean that he is shy, or has a speech impediment. But I think it’s clear that Moses’ problem is less personal. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, while being sent back to his Israelite family to be nursed. He may be Israelite himself, but he is fluent in the language and manners of the Egyptian royal family. He may have been raised at court, but with the open knowledge of his origins in the slave community. He is an outsider in both of his communities, which is why he flees to Midian and tries to start over there. But when god finally convinces Moses to return to Egypt, he goes with the knowledge that no one in Egypt is going to want to listen to him, and no one will easily hear what he has to say. And that’s a lesson that each of us needs to learn, to speak up even when we think we won’t be heard, to make the effort even when we’re sure that our accents and appearances will influence others to push us away.

And we had a fascinating group at the seder, all of whom understood the message; nearly everyone at the table had been born outside of Israel, with a few who had been born here to immigrant parents. Nearly everyone at the table spoke at least three languages, and several couldn’t easily identify which was their ‘first’ language. And one woman had actually left Egypt herself in the early 60’s, moving to London and then Paris before coming to Jerusalem; she spent the seders of her youth saying “next year in Jerusalem” in Egypt, and reading in the hagaddah that she was to feel as if she herself had left Egypt, but to this day she gets looks of distrust from other Jews when she speaks in her native Arabic.

The seder itself was conducted in a combination of Hebrew and English, but dinner conversation branched into French and German and Spanish and Arabic. Others who shared stories provided bits of Amharic and Ladino and Japanese. Displayed prominently among the haggadot was a lovely little book with the Four Questions translated into 23 languages, with commentary about each linguistic community.

The 25 people sitting at the table for the seder probably wouldn’t have met under any other circumstances, and we might not have listened to each other if we had met elsewhere. Israel may have people from everywhere, but they don’t always talk to each other, and many make no effort to learn the language of someone they consider to be “other.” But by the end of the seder, one young woman had memorized the first of the four questions in Ladino, and the visiting guest who only spoke English was talking about signing up for a Spanish class when she returns home to the US. One of the more right-wing attendees was asking where he could sign up for a good beginning Arabic class, and the Egyptian woman was telling my German-American-Israeli girlfriend that she spoke Arabic with a Lebanese accent. This year in Jerusalem, in half a dozen different languages, we listened.