If you've never been to a community seder, it's reasonable to wonder what it's like. Will the people be old, or young? Will everyone know everyone else? And, will the matzah balls bounce?
Well, the point of a Passover seder is, after all, to ask questions. Every seder will certainly recount the exodus of the Jews from ancient Egypt, as the tale is told in the Biblical book of Exodus. But as matzah is matzoh, every seder will be a little differently flavored, in terms of demographics, length of service, and whether the congregation sings "Let My People Go" or "Chad Gad Ya" on or off-key.
The only way to know is to go.
In keeping with the spirit of inquiry of the Passover holiday, here are three distinctly non-Talmudic and very basic questions and answers about community seders in general, and in Brooklyn.
1. What is a Community Seder?
A community Passover seder, usually held by a synagogue, is a combination storytelling event, Jewish religious service, and big festive meal that is open to the community, whether or not they are members of a congregation.
In keeping with the Passover injunction, "let all who are hungry come and eat," these events are expansive, educational, intergenerational, full of song, inquiry, and fun.
The essence of a seder is the communal re-telling, and joyous re-experiencing, of the Biblical story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt, an iconic journey from slavery to freedom. During a long festive meal, participants read (and sometimes act) the story, adding observations and interpretations, including references to current events. Children are encouraged to engage. Indeed, some elements of the Passover seder are expressly designed to peak a child's curiousity.
2. What is a Community Passover Seder Like?
Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum of the Chabad Congregation Kol Israel of Prospect Heights-Fort Greene, said,
Our community seders are festive, meaningful, thought-provoking and community-based. We have a family-friendly atmosphere. Traditional and non-traditional Jews of all ages come together and experience something truly powerful
Pesach means having discussions, asking questions. Everything is done to inspire the kids' curiosity. Non-members are not just welcome, but encouraged to join us. Come for great food, great people."
At every seder, the table features certain items: matzah, wine, candles, a special Elijahs cup, bitter herbs, and two concoctions, haroset and maror, that play a role in the retelling of the Exodus story.
While familiy seders can last an hour, or until dawn, community seders tend to run an hour and a half to two hours.
3. How Can You Find a Community Passover Seder in Brooklyn?
There are pockets of Jewish life throughout Brooklyn. To find a religiously-oriented community seder, contact a local synagogue or Jewish community center. These might include:
- Manhattan Beach Jewish Center Orthodox (718) 891-8700
- Seaview Jewish Center Orthodox (718) 444-2222
- Young Israel of Kings Bay Orthodox - primarily conducted in Russian. (718) 332-6231
- Beth-El Jewish Center of Flatbush Orthodox (718) 375-0120