There were times when the seder ceremony got a little wearisom for 3 1/2-year-old Yariv, times when he would slip under the long row of tables, wave his red stuffed snake at 13-month-old Tal, then chug off into the kitchen to stare at the cakes made without flour or leavening.
Yariv's mother, Miriam, one of 27 friends and family members who had gathered to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover in the Bethesda home of Lilo and Richard Schifter, followed her son's progress with a worried expression.
Lilo finally caught Miriam's eye. She shook her head with a smile and mouthed silently, "Don't worry. Enjoy the service."
It was Saturday night, and as they had done on the first night of Passover for the last eight years, the Schifters gathered their four daughters, their son, their grandchildren, their in-laws and their friends in their Bethesda living room to celebrate the deliverance of the Jewish people from the land of Egypt 2,700 years ago.
Barbara-Schifter's boyfriend Uri, an Israeli of Iraqi origin, came down from New York for the occasion; her sister Judy and Judy's husband Israel brought their son Tal, who wore a blue yarmulke.
Otto Landman, a wartime comrade of Richard Schifter's when both were intelligence officers in England, brought his wife Ruth, his mother, his sister and his son, Jay Kraemer, a young member of Schifter's Washington law firm, came with his wife Ruth.
Then Karen Schifter brought a high school friend, Ricky Schifter and his wife, Jean, brought two law school friends as well as their 17-month-old child Rachel, and Judy and Israel brought their Israeli friends Moshe, Miriam, and Yariv.
"There is a tradition in any Jewish community that you're supposed to search out anyone who hasn't got a seder to go to and invite them to yours," explained Jay Kraemer.
"I remember when I was growing up outside of Denver, we always used to go to a seder at my mother's aunt's and uncle's house. There was an Air Force base nearby, and they'd always have a couple of Jewish airmen in as well, since they had no place else to go."
At the head of the table, which stretched 30-feet diagonally from one corner of the room to the other, Richard Schifter - a powerful figure in Democrat politics in Maryland - cleared his throat and began to speak. "I guess it's time for my annual sermon," he said.
He talked for a minute about freedom; about the Indian election that had turned Indira Gandhi out of office in the wake of the controversy there over her repressive state of emergency declaration; abou the hopes he had had for the world when he walked through a British field talking with Otto Landman 32 years ago in 1945.
"As I look around the world now, things have not really worked out quite the way I'd hoped," he said. ". . . But I'm glad we live in a society where freedom is so highly valued."
He then picked up the book on the plate in front of him, the Haggadah that contains the words of the Passover ceremony, and began to read in Hebrew, "Blessed art Thou O Lord God . . ."
On a plate in front of him sat the ceremonial foods of Passover: the parsley, the salt water to dip in, the horseradish or "bitter herbs," the hard-boiled egg, the sweet apple-and-nut mixture called Charoseth, and the matzoh, or unleavened bread.
Glasses around the table, filled with the kosher Passover wine, were raised, lowered, and drained at the appropriate times in the service, although no one followed the Haggadah's italicized instructions to "drain first glass in a reclining position."
"In the old days I think they were supposed to have a lot of cushions for everyone," said Ruth Kraemer. "With all the wine you're supposed to drink, you can see why."
Schifter finished the early prayers broke the matzoh that came from Israel, then listened as Jonathan Landman, the youngest male present, read the four questions of Passover, beginning. "Why does this night differ from all other nights?"
The reading of the service continued, person by person, around the table, now in fluent Hebrew, now in halting Hebrew, new in English.
Then came the songs. The adults sang of what the Lord had done for the Israelites throughout their Exodus from Egypt to Israel ending each verse with a rousing chorus of "Dayenu," which means "We should have been content."
In the midst of it, Yariv burst into a howl. "Be quiet everyone. It's my turn to sing. Be quiet!" As he began to wail in earnest, Miriam squeezed around the end of the table and went to comfort him.
Then, as the singing stopped and the service continued, a small voice could be heard in the stairwell, piping to itself, "Da-, Da-yenu, Da-, Da-yenu, Dayenu, Dayenu."
Back at the table, Lilo Schifter, an attorney at the Federal Power Commission, smiled at the compliments accorded her brisket, gefulte fish, and stuffed cabbage, and laughed when she heard Yariv's voice. "The important thing is that this is a family affair, children to grandmothers. These family rituals give children something to remember."