I have a mixed Jewish background. My father isn't Jewish, my mother comes from a very aristocratic Anglo-Jewish family. My great-(lots of greats)-grandfather arrived in this country as Court Physician to William and Mary in 1692 from Spain via 10ish generations in Amsterdam. Understandably, my mother's family had lost most of their traditions in the 250 years between this arrival and her birth, although they had hung onto a strong Jewish identity, perhaps because of how segregated British society was (my grandmother was the first generation of Jewish women who could be presented at Court). My mother's family don't eat chicken soup, they do eat bacon. But they also go to Synagogue every week, celebrate all the holidays, and generally define themselves as Jews.
My parents gave up religion when they got married, because they'd had so much hassle from their families (although my father once confessed that there would have been even more outcry if he'd brought home a catholic - at least a Jew was exotic!). So we were brought up to be nothing. When I was eight, I decided that I wanted to be Jewish. My grandmother was delighted. After that I spent all the Jewish holidays with her, and learnt our family's traditions from her. This included always attending Seders, where I was frequently the youngest person there, so I'm pretty good at Ma Nishtanah.
During my childhood my parents had a big family row with my uncle and grandmother - it was about money, what can I say. This resulted in my mother not seeing her mother for several years. Yet through all of this I remained close to my grandmother, and my mother supported this. I can only now understand how hard that must have been.
There is a point. I'm getting there
However when my grandmother died nearly 6 years ago (many years after having reconciled with my mother), it left me without a close Jewish part of the family. Although my uncle and aunt are civil to me in Synagogue, and my cousin and I have regained some of the closeness we had as children, they never invite me for family meals around the holidays, or for Seder. Luckily one of my mother's best friends, A. (who also happens to be my aunt's cousin) has taken me under her wing. She's invited me each year to her family Seder. See, we're at the point.
Most years, this Seder is quite formal. Not as formal as some, but Sephardic and serious. This year, however, for the first time, all of A.'s grandchildren attended. There are five boys, ranging in age from 3 to 9. And in the interim, A.'s husband has had a stroke and finds it hard to read. So this year the five boys gathered around their grandfather at one end of the table, and he told them a story.
He told it incredibly well. He has a great voice, and he held them entranced from start to finish. A., sitting next to H and opposite me at the far end of the table, kept getting anxious that the children were losing interest. But they weren't. They listened with open mouths to their grandfather telling the story of what happened in Egypt. The older boys piped in the names of the plagues. They jointly recited the questions in English as their grandfather led them through. And then we had dinner.
We didn't say most of the prayers, we missed one of the glasses of wine, we only sang one song. But I think we did the right thing.