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Greenwich Temple Holds an Interfaith Seder

Temple Sholom hosted its first-ever first-night Passover seder Monday night, and opened the ceremony to people of all faiths. “Passover touches upon themes of hope and comfort and redemption, and I think those are universal to religious traditions and even if you’re not necessarily affiliated with religious practice, it still speaks to people,” said Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, who led the ceremony. “Passover is ultimately a celebration of spring and hope and renewal.

The seder was co-sponsored with Christ Church Greenwich and the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship, founded last July.

It was the first time the temple has hosted a first-night seder. “Every year, Reverend [James] Lemlar and his wife join us for our first-night seder, so we thought it would be nice to open it up as a public seder,” said Hurvitz. They were hoping for 40 people to respond, and ended up with over 120.

“People in temple invited friends who aren’t Jewish,” the rabbi said before the meal. “It will be nice to share a seder, and do it in a way that’s traditional but also really welcoming.”

Passover celebrates the Jewish people’s flight from Egypt in the 23rd century B.C.E., as detailed in the book of Exodus. God unleashed 10 plagues on Egypt, sparing the Israelites, until the Pharaoh agreed to release the Jewish people from slavery. According to scripture, God also instructed the Hebrews to spread the blood of the paschal lamb on the two doorposts and on the beam above the door of the houses, a sign to pass over their homes during the 10th plague, the killing of the first-born sons of the Egyptians.

The Haggadah is a re-telling of the biblical story that is read at the seder table and is meant to pass on the story of liberation to children. The focus of the holiday is the seder, a dinner with family and friends in which matzoh bread and bitter herbs are eaten to symbolize the bitterness of slavery the Jewish people endured. Charoset, a sweet mixture made with chopped nuts, apples, cinnamon and red wine symbolizes the mortar used by the Jewish slaves in building in Egypt. Karpas is a vegetable other than bitter herbs that is dipped in salt water to represent tears and mark the pain of Jewish slaves. A roasted lamb bone, called Zeroah, is eaten to symbolize the Pesach sacrifice. Beitzah, a hard-boiled egg, symbolizes the festival sacrifice offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Ma Nishtana are the four questions traditionally sung during the seder, asked by the youngest child at the table. The questions begin with the introduction, “Why is this night different from all nights?” The first question is, “Why is it that on all other nights during the year we must eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat matzoh?” The second question is, “Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?” The third question is, “Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?” The fourth question is, “Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?”

In 21st century fashion, the traditional holiday has accompanying smart phone applications. Check out apps like Haggadah, a brief version of the text read at a Passover seder for $3three dollars, or iMahNishtana, an application presenting the Four Questions with flashcards and recordings for children, by iPhone. For Android users, Union Haggadah app presents a Reform version of the text, and Ma Nishtana is an app that lets users listen to the Four Questions.

“I think Passover was designed to keep in mind pedagogy, so the original app was the Haggadah,” said Hurvitz. “Everything from then that helps children get engaged in rituals is really wonderful.”

Tuesday night, Rabbi Allison Berlinger will lead a family-oriented second-night Passover seder. Temple Sholom is located at 300 East Putnam Ave. The cost for Tuesday night’s seder is $50 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under. Call Josh Altman at (203) 543-7163 for more information.

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