Non-Jews add unique perspective to seders
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Sheila and Don Fink have been guests at Naomi and Richard Lewins’ seders for the past seven years. And although the Finks aren’t Jewish, they feel as though they are members of the tribe, having learned so much about Passover and Judaism.
“While we are Christian, the beliefs, morals and values of Judaism are part of our faith too,” Don Fink said. “The story of Passover and remembering that time is good for all of us to think about. For us, coming together and eating wonderful food we would never get to eat is great. I even like gefilte fish.”
The fact that Passover is a family holiday also resonates with the Finks, Don said. They have brought their children and grandchildren to the seders, and he believes it is a good way to expose them to another religion.
And, of course, Passover resonates with Christians because the Last Supper may have been a seder.
During the Lewins’ seders, everyone takes turns reading portions of the Haggadah, and Fink says it truly makes them feel as though they are part of the family.
“This is something that has become part of our year and we always look forward to it,” he said. “It’s also wonderful to teach children to respect everybody’s faith, and I believe that has really helped our family learn to have a respect and understanding for other religions. Having my children and grandchildren attend seders and learn about Passover teaches them that there are people of strong character and moral behavior who have different beliefs and that we need to respect those.”
Having the Finks and their family at the seder is always a wonderful experience, Naomi Lewins said. She believes it is also a good way to have significant discussions and promote interfaith dialogue.
“It’s a delight to have them, and I believe it makes our seder much more meaningful because it’s special, informative and enriching for them and us,” she said. “If we didn’t have them come, they probably wouldn’t celebrate Passover otherwise. Passover is about story telling and the story itself is relevant to all faiths. It’s about liberation from bondage, and everyone can relate to that.”
Jay Abrams echoed those comments. He and his wife, Janet Bubis, invited his non-Jewish co-worker Helen Sallee and her husband, Aaron, to their seder last year; they are planning to attend this year as well.
Bubis and Abrams open their door to anyone during Passover, and enjoy sharing the holiday with their family and friends.
“It’s great because [the Sallees] get to learn something new about the Jewish religion, culture and customs,” Abrams said. “This definitely opens the door for interfaith relationships and brings to light that there is nothing wrong with learning something new. Hashem says to keep the door open for those who have nowhere to go and for those who want to learn about our religion. We always enjoy all of our guests, both Jewish and non-Jewish.”
What the Sallees enjoyed most last year, Helen said, was asking questions and seeing multiple generations participate in the seder.
Helen had been to a small seder before, but last year was Aaron’s first time attending one and it was a very enlightening, inspiring experience for both of them, she added.
“As Christians, we know the story of Passover, and I always emphasize that our religion started from Judaism,” Helen said. “Going to the seder was a great experience and everyone was welcoming. The one word that comes to mind when I think of Passover is family. It’s all about passing on traditions and teaching and it’s very nice to be a part of that.”
Passover learning will be hands-on at Emanu-El preschool
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Pyramid building, planting, creating clay frogs and yoga — many people would not think those four activities relate to each other, but think again. They are all part of the Passover Experience at Temple Emanu-El’s Early Childhood Education Center.
The children, ages 1-5, will participate in these activities on Friday, March 29 so they can experience the story of Passover in a hands-on way. They will also have the opportunity to taste matzah from around the world, along with singing and dancing.
Providing this experience allows children to have a better understanding of Passover, according Shelly Sender, director of the early childhood center. The goal is to highlight the story of Passover and have the pupils interpret it in their own ways, she said.
“The central theme of Passover is freedom, and that’s what we will be celebrating,” Sender said. “Children can do art projects, but I don’t believe they learn as much that way. They really have to live it, and that’s what this does for them. Once they truly understand Passover and have been exposed to it in practical ways, it gives them a deeper, more meaningful experience.”
The children enrolled in the preschool are immersed in Passover in various ways each year, Sender said. Last year, they learned about Passover and how it related to Earth Day.
During the Passover Experience, the children will go to four stations, where they will build pyramids on a big screen with light; plant parsley and chives in soda bottles; make bugs and frogs out of clay to illustrate the Ten Plagues; and do yoga poses the represent pyramids, wine glasses and the other items on the seder plate.
These projects are also meant to be a springboard to other subjects, Sender said. For example, talking about frogs and bugs in the Passover story can lead to learning more about lifecycles and eating habits. The children can learn about rebirth and revival through the planting and pyramid activities.
“What’s great about this is that it is on the children’s level, and they can interpret what they learn in various ways,” Sender said. “One child may get the idea that the Jews were freed, while another may focus solely on the frogs. This helps children think analytically and, even though this is a Passover project, they can always revisit it and reflect on it throughout the year.”
The early childhood center has also conducted seders all this week for the children to learn about the traditional parts of Passover.
It’s important to learn about the traditions of the holiday, said Jennifer Richman, who teaches 3-year-olds, but the Passover Experience allows children to have fun with it.
“This gives them another chance to comprehend Passover in a unique, non-traditional way,” Richman said. “We work really hard to teach the children about rituals, traditions and the meaning of Passover, but it’s neat to give them a chance to connect at their own level with different projects. Providing them new, different experiences like this really makes an impact and helps them understand even more.
Pre-K teacher Maricella Garcia enjoys seeing the “a-ha” moment when the children truly understand what they are learning.
“Something like this brings out their curiosity and allows them to ask questions they may never think about,” she said. “It expands their learning and they use their knowledge to make connections about the Passover story. It’s really amazing.”