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Choosing a Seder That Fits

Reprinted by permission from the Baltimore Jewish Times. Originally published with the title "Seder Strategies: Interfaith families find their own ways to navigate the Passover-Easter holidays."

April 11, 2008. The Mothers Circle is coming up on its first Passover. The dozen or so women in the group have already tackled the big hurdle for interfaith couples known as the December Dilemma, the conflict between Hanukkah and Christmas. But Passover-Easter doesn't seem to have the same emotional punch. It's so under the radar that it doesn't even have a catchy title to call its own.

Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore thinks he knows why.

For many Americans, Christmas has become more of a communal celebration than a religious holiday. Like Thanksgiving, it's about being with the family and a big meal and presents and, says the rabbi, Jews can use that as an excuse to participate in the holiday.

But Easter is clearly a religious holiday, despite the best efforts of candy companies to turn it into an extravaganza of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps.

Seder Plate by Tikkun Knits
Knitted Seder Plate by TikkunKnits. You can buy the pattern and knit your own symbolic foods to use on your seder plate every year.

"Passover-Easter doesn't compete in the same way that Hanukkah-Christmas does," said Rabbi Schwartz.

The Mothers Circle is a program out of the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute. Held in 26 cities around the country, the local program began last fall. Participants, non-Jewish women in interfaith marriages who want to learn more about Judaism, meet twice a week at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

Sharon Seigel coordinates the circle. Ms. Seigel, who is also coordinator for the JCC's Parent, Infant, Toddler Department, said that some of the women in the circle are hosting their own seders, while others are going to their husband's family's seder. Whatever the situation, the women want to learn about Passover so they can "do it right," she said.

Needless to say, experiences differ, as one Jewish woman in an interfaith marriage discovered when she invited a group of similar couples with whom she was friendly to a seder. Except for her, all were non-Jewish women married to Jewish men.

Everyone was asked to bring a dish and the women were thrilled to oblige, poring over cookbooks for recipes and calling her to make sure they didn't inadvertently include hametz in their ingredients.

Came the night of the seder, though, and nearly all of the Jewish husbands found excuses not to attend. The only Jews there, recalled the hostess, were herself and a sole Jewish husband.

This doesn't surprise Rabbi Geoff Basik, spiritual leader of Kol Halev, a small, newly formed congregation in Baltimore that makes a special point of outreach to the intermarried.

He has seen interfaith couples use all sorts of strategies to deal with Passover and Easter, and avoidance can be one of them. He has seen situations where the non-Jewish spouse goes to the Jewish spouse's family for seder and vice versa for Easter. He has seen couples celebrate both holidays in their homes, "but trying to be neutral and politically correct."

Typically, though, this changes when the couple has children of their own. "Then they want to create their own seder, so they can do it the way they want," said Rabbi Basik.

And that's a good thing.

Family Friends

Pikesville residents Kelly and Michael Meltzer have been married 10 years. Their daughter attends Krieger Schechter Day School at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore. They are not affiliated.

The Meltzers celebrate Passover at a seder hosted by friends of her husband's family. His is one of four families that have been getting together for first and second night seders for years, and there are probably 25 people at the event, which is held in Bethesda.

"It's not a standard seder. This is geared for that crowd and it's a wonderful combination of these four families," said Mrs. Meltzer.

The seder is potluck. Everyone brings something. Last year, Mrs. Meltzer made a Pesach lasagna with soy crumbles for the meat and matzoh for the noodles.

Mrs. Meltzer is in the process of converting, and she does not celebrate Easter with her family.

Kid-Friendly

Amanda and Heath Lindenbaum have been married eight years. They have two children and worship at Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore.

For both first and second night seders, they go to Mr. Lindenbaum's family. "We get to see the extended family. We go around the table and everyone reads. We try to make it kid-friendly," said Mrs. Lindenbaum.

Everyone pitches in to bring different dishes. Mrs. Lindenbaum usually brings a dessert or side dish.

Seders are nothing new to Mrs. Lindenbaum. Growing up, she attended many seders at her Jewish best friend's home.

For Easter, the Lindenbaums go to her mother's, who has told her grandchildren that "the Easter Bunny comes to her house and brings candy for them." Besides candy, there is an Easter egg hunt.

Easter "has always been a secular holiday at my [parents'] house," said Mrs. Lindenbaum. "It's about bunnies and candy and colored eggs."

Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "leavened," foods that are not kosher for Passover, such as bread and wheat-based products. It refers to products that are both made from one of five types of grain and have been combined with water and left to stand raw (rise) for longer than eighteen minutes. Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Barbara Pash

Barbara Pash is the Associate Editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, and has won numerous awards for her writing locally, regionally and nationally. Most recently, she won Best in Show in the 2007 Maryland-Delaware-Washington, D.C. Press Association for an article about the dilemma rabbis face in performing interfaith marriage ceremonies and the impact interfaith families are having on the American Jewish community.

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