Apr 11, 2006

And a glass of Diet 7-Up for Elijah

My best friend from college grew up in a nonreligious, actually an anti-religious household, yet her family held a seder. An unorthodox one to be sure: Generally a glass of wine is reserved for Elijah the prophet--not Diet 7-Up.

According to this article 78 percent of secular Jews hold a seder for Passover. For many it's the one holiday in the Jewish calendar that they observe.
"The Seder is very ritualistic and action-oriented," explains Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, the executive director of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and a Chabad rabbi. "At the Seder table, you are able to physically do what it means to be Jewish, and people react stronger to actions than to words and speeches."

And on some subconscious level, insists Gestetner, every Jew, regardless of his or her level of observance, has a desire to connect to Judaism.

"They want to be connected to 3,000 years of tradition," he says. "The essence of the Seder is communicating our tradition to the next generation - v'higadeta l'bincha - and even Israelis who call themselves secular want to communicate their heritage, something infinite, to the next generation."

The Pessah Seder is the best time for this, he adds, because Pessah is considered the national holiday and the birthday of the Jewish nation, which is a perfect time to celebrate with family.

"In modern times there's barely any time for family, and the Seder is a time when everyone comes together in an environment of tradition linking us to our past and our roots," he continues. "There's also a sense of being part of the family of Am Yisrael [the Jewish nation] and becoming a living part of the chain of tradition."

Religious or not, every Jew can feel comfortable at the Seder, because the hagaddic tale of the four sons ensures that whoever you are - wise, evil, simple or completely unknowledgeable - you nonetheless have a place around the Seder table.

Despite the barriers blocking many Israelis from connecting to Judaism, Gestetner maintains that what draws the non-observant to the Seder is its authenticity and the fact that it remains untarnished by politics and external issues that make religion in Israel problematic.

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