During Holy Week this year, I participated in Congregation Beth Sholom’s (frozenchosen.org) 2nd Night Community Seder, my third with this warm congregation. Seder is observed during the eight-days of Passover (seven if in Jerusalem). Pesach (Passover) commemorates the events of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the Bible, the Exodus story is found in the book of Exodus, chapters 1-15. The Passover, proclaimed by Moses, was instituted in Egypt as the key last event preceding Pharaohs releasing the children of Israel.
Passover was intended to be observed by the Israelite’s after their deliverance. Instructions for its observance are contained in Exodus, chapters 12-15. Seder, as such, was formalized after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Before Passover is celebrated, each Jewish household is thoroughly cleaned and all forbidden items such as yeast, yeast breads, etc., are eliminated.
Pesach is one of the most commonly observed Jewish holidays, even by otherwise non-observant Jews. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach Seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.
Generally a written Hagaddah is used which contains the various readings and songs in proper order. It was a treat to be seated with CBS member Michael Silverbook who described some of the key during the evening. At the same time, he was hosting three deaf gentlemen, using his phone to dictate what was happening at each moment, showing it to one who communicated to the others via sign language. Michael’s wife, and former Rabbi Frederick Wenger and his wife also were at our table. I should note that the meal was catered by Aladdin’s Restaurant who yearly does such a fine job of serving kosher and excellently prepared food with great service. The 2nd Night Community Seder is offered to non-CBS members for a fee, which includes all food and the ceremonial wine; I paid this fee in advance.
You can read the entire text of a Reform Judaism Haggadah by clicking this link. (http://jewishfederation.org/images/uploads/holiday_images/39497.pdf)
The entire celebration lasts 3-4 hours and is a delightful time of listening, learning, and celebrating Israel’s liberation. This is a family affair with all members of the family participating. Rabbi Michael Oblath, who replaced Rabbi Wenger, led the readings and singing from the Haggadah. Each act performed is symbolic.
- Sanctifying the Day
3. Dipping Parsley in Salt Water
4. Breaking the Middle Matzah
5. The Seder Narrative
—The Four Questions
—The Four Children
—The Ten Plagues
—Explanation of Passover Symbols
7. Blessing at the Start of the Meal
8. Blessing over Matzah
9. Eating of Bitter Herbs
10. Matzah and Charoset Sandwich
12. The Afikomen Dessert Matzah
13. Grace after the Meal
14. Praises and Blessings
15. Closing Section and Songs
I particularly enjoy the four questions asked of children, children’s search for the afikomen, drinking the ritual four glasses of wine, the ritual drops of wine of a plate for each of the plagues, singing of Dayenu, and the sense of community this celebration brings annually.
Some Christian churches conduct Seders in their churches which has created some degree of controversy and animosity within the Jewish community. Last month Christianity Today ran several articles dealing with the pros and cons of Christians observing Seders in their churches. I suggest both for a balanced view. Personally, I think Christians should respect the argument that having these celebrations amount to cultural appropriation. I attend to better understand Jewish tradition.
Several years ago, I asked a Rabbi friend what he thought about Christians doing Seder in their churches. He wryly answered, “Why don’t they do Yom Kippur?”
I’ve previously written about my local Seder experiences in these two columns:
Lubavitcher (https://www.churchvisits.com/2015/04/seder-in-anchorages-lubavitcher-community/) and Reform, (https://www.churchvisits.com/2014/05/at-seder-a-community-reflects-on-liberation-from-slavery/).
My thanks again to the wonderful community of Congregation Beth Sholom and their acceptance of me at their synagogue, allowing me to experience various festivals of their faith of which Seder is only one.