Archive for Saturday, March 23, 2013

Faith Forum: How does your family celebrate Passover?

March 23, 2013


Rabbi Moti Rieber, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive:

Passover (in Hebrew, Pesach) is a holiday that requires a great deal of preparation. Not only can’t we eat grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats) that are leavened, we are actually prohibited from owning them or benefiting from them in any way. We therefore prepare for the holiday by completely cleaning our homes of all traces of these products. Foregoing hametz (as the leavened products are collectively called) reminds us of those that when the Israelites were liberated from Egypt, they had to leave hurriedly, in the middle of the night. They didn’t have time to make elaborate preparations, or even to allow their bread to rise.

On the first and second night of Pesach itself, families and friends gather for a meal known as a Seder (SAY-der). This is a combination of a religious ritual and a festive meal. We read from a book called a Haggadah, which recounts the miracle of deliverance from slavery — both historical, physical slavery in Egypt, and the spiritual slavery that our ancestors saw as idolatry and which we can see as the replacement of Godliness with the trappings of human achievement or materialistic acquisitiveness.

Our family gathers with a combination of old friends and new: this year, in addition to our five, we will be joined by another family of five and the mother’s parents, with whom we have been spending this night over the past few years; an old (non-Jewish) friend of mine, who will be joining us as a guest for the first time; a couple from my congregation in Lawrence; and another couple from Overland Park whose family is out of town. On the second night we will gather with about 80 people from the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation. In this way we celebrate that freedom is something we both gain and enjoy — together!

— Send email to Moti Rieber at

David Berkowitz, past president, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive:

My family observes Passover in several different ways. We have additional dietary restrictions including not eating leavened bread. We do not work on the first day, and we have Seders (Passover ceremonial feast) on the first and second evening. Where we differ from many families, however, is we use two different Haggadot (Passover prayer books). On the first night we use a fairly modern Reform Haggadah and on the second night an older Reform Haggadah that was used in my grandfather’s home in Wichita.

The English in the first Haggadah is modern and gender neutral. There’s more Hebrew integrated into the service as well as a number of alternative readings. The illustrations are watercolors and symbolic.

The Haggadah that we use on the second night differs in many respects. Its English is King James-style, and anything but gender-neutral. There’s relatively little Hebrew integrated into the service, and the illustrations are realistic, many of them engravings. The service itself is considerably abbreviated.

What makes the second Haggadah particularly meaningful for both myself and my wife are my grandfather’s notations as to who is going to read a particular passage.

This of course provides a connection with past generations, and for me it particularly brings to mind my extended family who would get together during the Passover Seder. All but three have now passed away, but their memories come alive on the second night.

Despite the differences between the Haggadot, both celebrate God’s most precious gift to humanity, that being freedom. As Americans and Jews we understand just how precious this gift is and are happy to make the celebration of freedom the main observance of our Passover.

— Send email to David Berkowitz at


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