Embracing Seder

by Rabbi Ben Leinow April 2, 2019


istock-901527000I grew up in Los Angeles, and had my Bar Mitzvah at the largest Orthodox Jewish Synagogue on the west side, and graduated from Fairfax High School. The student body at Fairfax was 98 percent Jewish. When I was growing up, we did not need a calendar or to be told which holiday was coming next. If we had ‘hamantaschen’ and ‘mondelbrot’ to eat it was Purim time. When breakfast was ‘matzah brie,’ it was Pesach. I knew that the ‘Angel of death without harming the Jews’ passed over the Jewish homes in Egypt. I did not know that the Jewish Holiday Pesach was also called Passover until I went to college and encountered Hillel.

I remember the Seder when the ‘boys’ of my family came back from World War II. They were real heroes and they loved each other and supported one another. They were Army, Navy and Marines. My Uncle Myer, a Marine, became a top sergeant and was among the first to hit the beaches at every campaign in the Pacific. Some of my family wondered if he had converted from Judaism because he could bring in non-Jewish sources so eloquently, and he came to our house on a motorcycle.

In my youth, my view of Pesach was that it was the time when the aunts, uncles and cousins got together to argue about the meaning of every word in the Haggadah as
well as what melody was correct when we sang the songs. The women and girls were in the kitchen and the men and boys were around a table, debating about the gift of freedom that G-d had given the Jewish People.

When I was a graduate student, I also entered the Hebrew Union College, where I studied to become a Rabbi. I encountered Jewish prayer books and Haggadahs that had the same content, but the editions could be read either from left to right or right to left. The concept was that our Jewishness and secularism were equally important. The prayer books gave us something else to discuss and argue about.

The one concept that seems constant is that there is a past, present and future, and we Jews will debate about which is most important. To some people, whatever Rashi had to say in the 12th century is more important than a statement about current conditions. Some people believe we must only focus on changing today’s sociological problems. I believe that learning from the past and making an effort to improve present conditions establishes a fixable worthwhile future.

I am very fortunate to have beautiful and meaningful memories connected to the Seddurim in my synagogues, in my home, and in the homes of my parents, sister, aunts and uncles. In addition I have the gift of two loving daughters with whom I have enjoyed Seddurim.

At this moment, I realize that with close to 50 years of communal and family Seddurim under my belt that I do not have a single Seder picture of family members. I do not have a single comment of shared agreeable or uncharitable thoughts. I do not have a picture of the family Seder Plate. I do not have a single picture of family members around the table. I have good, beautiful memories in heart and mind, but none that I can physically pass on to the loving members of my family.

Why all this background about my family and Jewish communal commitments? I am going to describe a change that I am going to make in my congregational and home Seddurim. I believe you could make a similar change that will bring joy to your Passover and your Seddurim.

When I have started a worship service or a wedding or a funeral or a Seder in the past,
either I or a leader of the community will say approximately the following, “Please shut
off your phones, and put them away so that they do not distract what is about to take
place.” At our coming community seder and my home seder I am going to say, “Take
out your phones, take whatever pictures you would like of the Seder Plate, table or people around the table. In addition, during the first 10 minutes of the Seder please make a phone call to a person you wish could be here with us this evening. Please wish them a ‘Happy Passover.” Once the announcement is made we will wait 10 minutes while people phone, photograph and send greetings to the people at their table and in some distant spot. I am doing this for everyone present and myself. I have a daughter with her family in Berlin, Germany, and I have a daughter with her family in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it will be my joy to wish them Happy Passover and let them be involved this year in two of the best Seddurim of my life.


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