Year after Year
by Yoni Rotenberg
Shevii Magazine – 30/3/2018
The halls are full, the desire for kosher food is up and the students are seeking a meeting with meaning | Community rabbis worldwide tell about the connection to Pesach among Jews, even those who are very far from religion
“One year I invited a couple of secular Israeli families who had been living for many years in Switzerland over for the Seder, and they were very excited about it. I had them read some sections of the Hagaddah to everyone in Hebrew, and they really appreciated it and felt like they belonged. As part of her excitement, one woman started taking pictures, and before I responded she had already put the picture on Facebook, a picture of me wearing a kittel at the Seder. It was a little awkward, but I was glad that at least they enjoyed the Seder.” This is one of the special Seder stories shared by Rabbi Noam Hertig, rabbi of the Jewish community in Zurich, Switzerland.
Hertig and his wife are graduates of the Straus-Amiel Practical Rabbinics Program, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network, which trains rabbis from Israel to lead Jewish communities throughout the world. Rabbis throughout the diaspora testify to the unique connection that Jews feel specifically to Pesach – even those Jews who are very far from Judaism and the Jewish community during the rest of the year. “Surprisingly, even families who are not careful with kashrut during the rest of the year are very observant on Pesach,” says Rabbi Nir Koren, rabbi of the Quito community in Ecuador. “There is something different about this holiday, maybe something internal in the soul that knows that this holiday is their ticket back into the history of the Jewish people.” Koren and his wife, Andrea, will again be leading a Seder for hundreds of Jews living in Ecuador, as they have been doing for many years.
“Our Seder has participants of all different kinds and from many different backgrounds,” says Rabbi Amram Maccabi, rabbi of the Jewish community in Stockholm, Sweden. “At first it was for those who wanted a Seder and had nowhere else to go, but over the years it came to include people who had never attended a Seder before. Then came the people who had watched a “model Seder” video and wished to learn how to have a real Seder – and once they found out it was more than just a festive dinner, they asked to join in order to learn more. We also have tourists who get stuck here and can’t get home in time, various strangers and others for whom this is the only time during the year when they identify as Jewish. The third year [we were here], we had to end registration early, as we were reaching numbers we couldn’t accommodate. On a practical level, I can’t run a Seder that has more than 150 attendees. There were even some Christians who wanted to experience ‘The Last Supper.’”
Wine, Matza and Bitter Herbs (x 650)
Some of these community rabbis scramble to provide kosher-for-Passover food throughout the entire holiday, on the assumption that many are unable to do so themselves.
“In order to allow students on campus to eat kosher-for-Pesach food, we opened a restaurant in our house for the entire holiday,” says Rabbi Eli Magzimof, chaplain at one of the university campuses in England. “Students sign up ahead of time for meals at a subsidized price. We secured funding through donations, as it is a significant cost, and each day we hosted about 50 students for lunch. It was a unique experience for everyone, and even those Jewish students who don’t strictly keep kosher came to be part of the warm social environment. On one of the days we hosted a session of ‘Lishma,’ one of our Jewish learning programs on campus where each week one of the students gives a class on a Jewish-related topic. That added valuable content to the social event.”
Rav Baruch and Shlomit Babaev, emissaries who relocated from Lublin, Poland to Dortmund, Germany last year, describe their experience: “Seder night is almost like the High Holidays. Families who usually don’t attend services and community events will show up for the High Holidays and for Pesach. There are many people who cannot attend our main Seder, such as senior citizens and the infirm, so we send them a food package that includes matza, wine, maror, charoset and a haggada. This year we hope to distribute over 650 packages.”