While Jewish families across the region dig out their Seder plates and haggadahs and stock up on matzah, horseradish, gefilte fish and brisket, North Shore synagogues and Chabad Houses will be hosting more than 1,000 Jews in lively, family-oriented community Passover Seders.
From Gloucester to Swampscott, Jewish and interfaith families will celebrate together and commemorate the anniversary of the miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery, surrounded by family members and fellow congregants, virtually and around tables full of food and wine.
At many synagogues, this will be the first-time members will be joining together in person for Seders in over two years as COVID-19 forced some to ban large gatherings.
“The opportunity to participate in this foundational Jewish experience as a community is profound,” said Rabbi Michael Schwartz of Temple Sinai in Marblehead. “It is fun, joyous and delicious to be together. Not everyone is adept at making the Seder.”
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“Passover is the most fundamental holiday of the Jewish people and gatherings around family tables are at its core,” echoed Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead.
“The opportunity to come together as a community to observe the festival is so meaningful as we recognize that there are many who, for various reasons, don’t have a family table where they can celebrate the holiday,” he said.
Most synagogues on the North Shore are expected to bring together 100 members or more at their Seders, including families, couples with adult children who have moved out of the area, and single adults, including widows and widowers.
“It’s so lovely to join a Seder at the temple when you can’t do it yourself anymore,” said Sonia Kalikow of Swampscott, a widow and member of Temple Sinai in Marblehead. “It’s too hard to do it at home anymore and I love how they celebrate (the holiday) in a traditional way.”
Adele and Mark Lubarsky of Peabody have participated in the past seven Seders at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody. “It gives us a hamishah feeling to be with what feels like our adopted family,” said Adele, who used to host large Seders at her home. “And besides, we don’t have to do the dishes.”
In Marblehead, Temple Emanu-El’s second night Seder sold out in a matter of days. Many of the 200 members who will be participating include families with children and grandchildren, according to Shelby Chapper-Pierce, engagement and life cycle coordinator.
“When you see the social hall full of families sharing the holiday together with their congregational family, it is nothing short of amazing,” she said.
Two temple volunteers, Heidi Greenbaum of Beverly, and Dan Rosen of Marblehead, have been coordinating a pot-luck dinner for some 200 members for the past month, working with a team of 12 volunteers and some Emanu-El staff. To sweeten things up, attendees have been encouraged to bring desserts.
For Emanu-El congregants who do not have a place to go for the first night of Passover, Claire and David Helfman of Marblehead have organized a group called the Holidays Together Neighborhood, and hold a Seder in the community room at the Glover Landing Condominiums in Marblehead.
Along with children singing the four questions, hiding the afikomen, reciting the 10 plagues, joyously singing Adir Hu following the fourth cup of wine, and discussing the meaning of Passover, music and food are two of the holiday’s most cherished traditions.
At Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, Janet Cline has been working for weeks with her team of 10 temple members preparing a feast that includes apricot chicken, salmon stuffed peppers, matzah ball soup and her specialty – Pesach popovers.
“We love the baking, cooking and eating the food we make,” said the Rockport resident, whose team also prepares gluten-free and vegetarian dishes as well as chicken fingers for the children.
Cline does what Jewish cooks have done since the invention of gefilte fish in a jar – doctoring it with carrots, celery and onions.
At Temple B’Nai Abraham in Beverly, Rabbi Alison Adler said congregants will have the option of a four-course brisket dinner or a four-course vegetarian option.
At Chabad of Peabody, volunteers will provide what Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman promises will be “a gourmet Passover dinner and hand-baked Shmura Matzah from Israel.”
Stan Lee of Danvers, who participates in services and events at the Chabad House, said he is particularly looking forward to the brisket. “The women of Chabad are known for their cooking,” he boasts.
“The Passover Seder is a special time for us to come together and celebrate our heritage and traditions,” Schusterman said. He plans to bring the story of exodus to life through mystical meanings and Kabbalistic insights.
The Passover message, he said, is “not only freedom from the shackles of slavery but freedom from those things that shackle us in our minds and essence. This year, let us strive to free ourselves from our addictive behaviors and seek healing and solutions for things that enslave our inner peace.”
At Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, Rabbi David Kudan said that the Pesach traditions “reveal that our very existence transcends the bounds of time and space. This is the powerful and eternal message of Passover.”
While many synagogues have teams of volunteers and staff doing most of the cooking, others just make a phone call to one of their favorite caterers.
No one is busier than Todd Levine, the third-generation owner of Larry Levine’s Kosher Meats and Deli in Peabody. He is preparing some 500 pounds of chopped liver and “too many matzoh balls to count.” Levine adds staff for Passover and expects to prepare 600 to 700 Seder dinners.
One special treat he started making several years ago – Pesach waffles – have become particularly popular. “We can’t make them fast enough,” he said.
While the Passover meal is something to be savored, music and discussions about the meaning of the holiday are also central to every Seder.
“We drink our four cups of wine and affirm our commitment to freedom, and to understand, deeply and in our whole being, that if everyone is not free then none of us are free,” said Rabbi Michael Schwartz of Temple Sinai. “We have to ask ourselves what message the Passover Seder has for us, collectively and individually this year, when we know there are upwards of 50 million people on planet earth, today, trapped in slavery.”
At Ner Tamid, Rabbi Richard Perlman adds a fifth cup of wine – what he calls the cup of remembrance for the Holocaust and a cup of hope. “This year the fifth cup will honor victims of terror and the people of Ukraine,” he said.
While most synagogues dedicate the second night of Passover for their community Seders, the Chabad Houses in Peabody and Swampscott hold services both nights, and Ner Tamid celebrates only on the first night.
Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover, which doesn’t have a permanent sanctuary building yet, will hold a virtual Seder, and Board members will deliver Passover kits to all its members so they can observe the holiday at home.
“On this Passover,” said Rabbi Idan Irelander of Ahavat Olam, “let us support one another in our struggles, celebrate each other’s victories, and strive to create a better world for ourselves and future generations.”
Music will play a particularly large role at the Seders at Temple Shirat Hayam in Swampscott and Temple Emanuel in Andover.
“Music is the thread that is interwoven in our congregation Passover Seder,” said Cantor Rachel Reef-Simpson of Temple Emanuel of Andover. “The music in our Seder not only helps us tell the story of the exodus from Egypt, but it also brings us joy as we celebrate our freedom.”
Cantor Sarah Freudenberger said Shirat Hayam’s house band, along with some professional musicians, will offer a “musical storytelling Passover experience.”
The music will be a mixture of traditional tunes with a rock band, and some new contemporary Jewish and even parody songs, including “Pharoah” to the tune of “Louie Louie” according to Freudenberger.