For a seder to be a seder, you need questions, Rabbi Daniel Greyber told a gathering of older adults on Wednesday at the Charlotte and Dick Levin Jewish Community Center. The Jewish holiday of Passover — which celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt — begins with a seder. This year, Passover starts at sundown Monday, April 10. The Levin JCC and Jewish Family Services hosted the early seder for older adults who might not otherwise partake in a group seder.
Greyber followed the Haggadah — the order of a seder that begins with lighting candles and explains each item on the seder plate and what it represents. He asked those gathered what things are needed for a seder, including the story and questioned. The youngest child at the seder table asks the Four Questions. Looking out at a room of those around retirement age, Greyber was met with chuckles.
“Even if you are having a seder by yourself, you have to ask the [Four] Questions because the Questions provoke the story. When we ask the Questions, the story begins to flow and the story begins to be told,” Greyber said.
The first question is: “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we can eat bread. Why do we only eat matzah on this night?”
The answer: “This night is different because we celebrate freedom and we eat matzah to remind us of the flight to freedom from slavery and unleavened bread our ancestors took with them.”
Three more questions and answers follow explaining how the meal is eaten, which tells the story as it proceeds. Greyber said that “in the Jewish tradition we don’t have a Pollyanna view of the world,” but still have hope because they believe in the power to get better. He asks everyone to turn to another person at the table and talk about times, both physically and spiritually, that were challenges and how they came through them with hope.
Carole and Paul Feiger, who have been married 42 years, retired to Durham this past summer from California. For their seder at home during Passover, Paul Feiger credited his wife with doing all the work. She writes a new Haggadah year to make it fresh and interesting, she said. She has added Miriam and other women who are part of the Exodus story.
Carole Feiger said she liked Greyber’s idea of discussing challenges in difficult situations and how you get through it, and the hope at the end.
Her spiritual challenge was when they moved to Durham and finding a new community of Jewish people and friends. She hadn’t realized she would miss it so much. The Feigers coming to the Levin JCC seder for older adults was part of that finding new friends and community.
For Paul Feiger, his physical challenge is his ongoing dialogue with God after a physical condition he’s dealt with the past five years.
“The thing I’ve taught my children, and what Judaism believes in, is God commands you to be free,” Feiger said. “The hope is to be free and follow God’s rules by choice and not edict.” He gestured to the seder table, saying that was what this is about.
“You can choose to wallow in your suffering or you can choose to have hope,” Carole Feiger said.
Lynne Kohn, who has been a volunteer at the elder seders as long as the JCC has had them, said her family hosts about a dozen people for their seder at home.
“I do most of the cooking, but everybody brings something,” she said. They’ll adjust the seder depending on if children are there, using things like puppets to illustrate the plagues. Kohn noted a recent addition to seder plates — an orange.
“It represents equality for all people, including women and gays and lesbians — a symbol of inclusiveness,” Kohn said.
Greyber ended the seder meal with a prayer: “May Jews everywhere live in peace, free to celebrate Passover, safe from fear and anger. May the heartbreaking events in Israel today recede into history like our hardships as slaves in ancient Egypt,” he said.
“May our wishes for peace extend to all people, everywhere. May the lessons of empathy, embedded in the Passover celebration, stay with us always and lead us to acts of kindness and healing in the world,” Greyber said.