I was intrigued. I have seen it advertised for years. Ta’am Ha’Ona, the teaser for the Passover Seder created by our JCC advertises “food, fun, and no fuss.” True that, there is no fuss when others prepare the Seder feast; all one need do is sit and enjoy. Could it be fun, too, I asked myself?
For over 45 years, I have conducted congregational Sedarim with my rabbinic colleagues in our synagogues. In them, the assembled all looked like my congregants. True that. They were! They were assembled at Hogwarts like rows of tables reminiscent of a military dining hall, crammed shoulder to shoulder, 400 or 500 of them on the Second evening. The rituals and feast were fine enough, but fun was not necessarily a word I would choose.
Seder night is joyous, but with a tinge of solemnity - we reenact in a 4-act talk-feast, the trek from enslavement to freedom and responsibility. Enslavement of the soul and mind, perhaps the body, to the acceptance of mitzvot and responsibilities as Jews at Sinai. “Fun” is not a word I would choose, until last Friday evening, March 30.
Lauren Ross, Betsy Cowan, and Maya Siler asked me to “officiate,” strike that, lead the JCC Seder for the first night. An artfully prepared Hagaddah of the highlights of the story fulfilled the legal and ritual requirements. We sat family-style at round tables decorated in festive fashion. Nearly 200 of us. Veteran culinary artist Irene Ramirez and her staffers led the kosher kitchen. The Kedem grape juice and Concord wine flowed. The fish was gefilte, our matza flat and dry. Our matza balls melted in the mouth.
We sang, laughed, and shared some personal stories, as families do at home. Colonel Hannah Margolis shared the history of making Matza with cowboy spurs in San Antonio-who knew!? An affable Israeli Gentleman, we call him Mr. Page 19 (since he wanted to get to the dinner portion quickly on page 19) came forward and sang a better melody than one I chose-and louder, too. Then he left a kosher cabernet at my table that may have trumped the Concord grape wine. Young in their holiday best, with parents and grandparents, followed with eagle eye to spy out the afikoman. Conversation and movement were free flowing, like a large family. It felt like one to me.
Yes, I recognized current and past congregants. However, on this night, what was different from all other nights was that they were all familiar to me and new to me at the same moment. This large tent at the JCC was warmly inclusive and non-denominational. Here assembled a family of Jews and guests, a mix of souls, retelling an ancient journey, recreating a true sense of freedom through poetry, food, song…and fun! See you at Sinai.