Beth Shalom temple holds second-night Seder

April 08, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

For 11-year-old Michael Fedder, the foods served only once a year were nevertheless familiar.

He easily described traditional foods for other children who had come to celebrate Passover with their families at Beth Shalom, or house of peace, in Taylorsville.

"That red stuff, that's horseradish," he said, pointing to a plate.

"My friends are just wondering about the foods," he said, to explain their skepticism. "I told them we'll have a good matzo ball soup later."

Place settings included tastes to recall the era of the Israelites' captivity in ancient Egypt. The mixture Michael described was maror, an acrid taste to remind Jews of the bitterness of their ancestors' slavery and oppression.

Bowls of charoses, a sweet fruity mixture, symbolize the mortar used by slaves in buildings for the pharaohs. During the ceremony, diners spread both maror and charoses on matzo, an unleavened bread.

The foods all play a part in the traditional meal, which marks Passover for Jews around the world.

Michael had another duty. His spiritual leader, Cantor Al Stein, asked him to make sure every male wore a skll cap for the ceremony.

"We must cover our head because God is over top of us, looking down on us," said the cantor.

Michael performed his duty well. Even the youngest male, an infant in his mother's arms, wore a cap.

In the house of peace, about 60 people gathered Tuesday for a ceremonial second-night Seder. The traditional foods and rituals made them mindful of the story passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.

The Haggada, a book of prayers that tells the story, says Passover is the "oldest continually observed ritual in the world, celebrated since the exodus from Egypt," almost 3,400 years ago.

"This is a custom of remembrance," said Cantor Stein, for 13 years the religious leader of the congregation. "It lets us know where we come from."

In that remembering, "we become better people and respect not only ourselves but our fellow man."

The cantor called the Seder a "learning experience" for the many children participating.

Passover celebrates God's passing over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, sparing their first-born sons from death. The ritual is filled with "echoes of the past and reminders of the present," he said.

Mr. Stein, a cantor for 52 of his 70 years, said he strives for a "comfortable, warm and loving" service.

He interspersed a paternal sternness with a gentleness that pulled the children into the ceremony.

"Everyone has a little wine, but don't drink until you are told," he said firmly.

Then, to one little girl, "You didn't hug me yet."

Following the candle lighting, the cantor blessed the festival and the foods, often chanting the Hebrew words of prayer. The congregation took turns reading the story from the Haggada.

During the ritual, one member hid a piece of matzo, the afikoman. After the meal, children searched for the hidden piece. The finder, Joel Lancaster, 8, won a $1 prize. Joel and his mother, Marianne Sickles, pastor of Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church, were the cantor's guests at the Seder.

"Look, it took a Methodist to find the afikoman," said the cantor with a laugh.

Pastor Sickles is planning a model Seder at her church this evening. The cantor said many other denominations also are adopting the tradition, which Jesus Christ observed on the night before his crucifixion.

"It is not important which church you go to," said the cantor, who has led three model Seders in Protestant churches this season. "It is in unity that we find our strength and power to survive."

Prayers of thanksgiving followed the meal. The festive atmosphere echoed the words: "God did great things for us and we were happy. Our mouths filled with laughter and our tongues with singing."

The cantor interrupted the closing prayers briefly.

"Open the door," he said. "Guess who is coming in?"

The roomful of worshipers answered, "The prophet Elijah."

The service concluded with, "Next year, may we celebrate in Jerusalem."

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