Matchmaking is what Ahuva Albrecht of Pikesville does for a living -- finding husbands for single Jewish women and wives for single Jewish men.
For Passover, an eight-day Jewish celebration that begins at sundown today, she volunteers to use her talents to arrange different kinds of matches: Passover Seder companions. Albrecht finds those with nowhere to celebrate Passover and matches them with empty seats at a family's dinner table.
"I expect that when they first arrive at the house, it will be a lot like a first date," Albrecht said of the Passover matches she has arranged. "The first 10 minutes will be awkward -- everyone will feel uncomfortable.
"But after a while, everyone will relax and start to be themselves. By the end of the night, they'll be relaxed and smiling and happy to be together."
Being together with family is important for Jews today as they begin the celebration of their holiest time of the year. Passover, celebrated by more Jews than any other holiday, commemorates the Israelites' Exodus from an Egyptian Pharaoh's slave camps. At the center of the celebration are Seders, special family dinners held during the week that feature bitter herbs, unleavened bread and readings of stories about the Jews' hasty flight from bondage.
Albrecht, a mother of four and wife of the cantor at Beth Tfiloh synagogue, said, "Passover is supposed to be a big thing: big in people, big in food, big in everything.
"It is an important time for families to gather together," said Albrecht, who describes herself as "40 forever."
"But it is also the time to take in those with no families," she added. "For Jews, the more people at the table for Passover, the more stories there are to share and the more dignified the event."
Indeed, the Passover Haggada, a text that describes the Exodus and appropriate holiday rituals, explains that Jews who feed strangers at Passover will be blessed.
"Whoever's hungry, let him come and eat," reads the Haggada. "Whoever is needy, let him come and celebrate Passover."
It is a sentiment fueling Passover matchmaking activities all across the Baltimore area. Most of the city's synagogues have appointed someone on staff to make sure all the members of their congregation have a place to share a Passover Seder.
Jewish Information Services has arranged for more than two dozen out-of-town visitors to spend Passover with Baltimore families. And Jewish Student Centers at Goucher College, the Johns Hopkins University and Towson State University are organizing Seders for students who can't get home for the holiday.
"If I were just on my own and no one was around, I'd probably be sad about now," said Corrine Meier, a 25-year-old Goucher student whose family lives in Switzerland. "But there are a lot of us in the same boat, and so being together for Passover will make it easier."
Coping with such separation or with the loss of loved ones can be unbearable on holidays, said Cherie Seidman-Brownstein, youth director at Beth Tfiloh. She said numerous families have come forward to say they are willing to share Passover with those who had no place to go. However, few people responded to the invitation. Only a handful of people responded to Albrecht's matchmaking offer.
"My guess is that people do not want to call attention to the fact that they are alone," Seidman-Brownstein said. "It's a holiday steeped in a lot of family tradition. So for those without families, the holiday can exacerbate feelings of emptiness."
Passover at the Owings Mills home of Jo-Anne Tucker-Zemlak, whose husband died three years ago, will be anything but dreary.
She will hold three Seders in her home this week for more than 60 single people and single parents and their children. Tucker-Zemlak said she will prepare all the food for two of the Seders in traditional kosher fashion. The only thing she has asked others to bring are extra chairs to accommodate all her guests.
"It's the Yiddish thing to do," she said, "to open your home to people with no place to go."
During her Seders, Tucker-Zemlak said, she hopes to let the singles know that just because they are alone does not mean they have to be lonely. There is a large community of people just like them that is eager to provide companionship.
"Since my husband died, I have made many single friends," she said. "They are the ones you can call when you had a lousy date or when your kids come home with straight A's or E's and you want to share it. They become your support."
And, she said, she makes a special effort to show the children of single parents that they have a community that supports and loves them.
"Most of the kids haven't been in complete family situations in a long, long time," she said. "So we become family and that's real important. If we want to raise children who are ethical and moral and Jewish, then we all have to chip in and do it together."
One of those attending Seder at the Tucker-Zemlak home is Barry Hirshblond, a 51-year-old Pikesville resident. His mother died in November. She was his last known living relative.
"I am an only child, and the only grandchild to my grandparents, and the only nephew to my aunt and uncle," Hirshblond said. "I filled an important void for a lot of people."
This year, Hirshblond said, friends like Tucker-Zemlak are filling an important void for him.
"My mother knew that my friends would look out for me," Hirshblond said. "And even though I may be among people I don't know, the fact that they are Jewish gives me a certain confidence, a certain ease.
"It's things like this that make me remember there are people around who care."
Pub Date: 4/21/97