“You can squeeze another one or two in at the table. It likely will be the most meaningful Seder invite you ever made. We could then share our experiences at the Seder with each other by emailing the Chronicle staff at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org …”
– Rabbi Wes Kalmar
What percentage of American Jews attend a Passover Seder? According to a Pew study from 2014, that number is about 70 percent.
It is wonderful that so many Jews have a connection to the Seder aspect of their Jewish tradition. However, the Pew study statistic means that 30 percent of American Jews are not attending a Seder. The fact that 30 percent of our fellow American Jews are missing out on the Seder makes me sad.
The Seder is such a fun night – rituals and rhetoric, food and family, intrigue (stealing the afikomen) and individualism (frogs, marshmallow hail, grasshoppers anyone?), Torah and tradition, kids and kashas, singing and survival – all take center stage as we celebrate the festival of freedom. Surveys conducted as late as the 1990s showed that close to 90 percent of American Jews attended a Seder. The trend for American Jewish community Seder attendance is not moving in a positive direction.
At the very beginning of the Maggid (telling over) section of the Haggadah we read Kol dichfin yetei veyeichol, kol ditzrich yetei veyifsach – Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and share in the Passover meal. Why do we need the repetition? The text already states “all who are hungry,” what is the need for “all who are in need?”
I think that we can suggest that those “who are in need” can mean something very different than those “who are hungry.” Those who are in need can mean those who are in need of companionship, those who are in need of friendship, those who are in need of a family, and those who need a place where they feel they belong. Those who are in need can mean those who have a spiritual need, different from a physical hunger. Those in need may be those who do not have a place to go for the Seder and maybe those who don’t even know if they really want to be at a Seder. Like the fourth son mentioned in the Haggadah, the ‘she-aino yodea lishol‘ (the one who doesn’t know how to ask the question), there may be those who would like to go to a Seder but don’t know where to go to find one.
Earlier this year I wrote a piece published in the Chronicle following the massacre at the shul in Pittsburgh in which I said that we need to find ways to come together as a community. I lamented the fact that we require a tragedy to come together and said that I wanted to do more than just talk (or write) about Jewish unity – rather, I want to find ways to take action. I discussed this with many of my colleagues and I want to share a suggestion made by Rabbi Mendel Shmotkin, executive director of Lubavitch of Wisconsin and rabbi of Chabad of Glendale.
Rabbi Shmotkin suggested that one way we could all come together as a community would be to all commit to inviting at least one person or one couple to our Passover Seder who otherwise would not be going to a Seder. Thirty percent of American Jews are not going to a Seder. What a difference we could make by making that number one less. Or, perhaps we can make sure to invite someone who might make it to a Seder but has a need to be included specifically at your table. I know some of you make Seder invitation plans way in advance. But by the time you are reading this – there are still more than two weeks to the Seder. You can squeeze another one or two in at the table. It likely will be the most meaningful Seder invite you ever made.
We could then share our experiences at the Seder with each other by emailing the Chronicle staff at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org for inclusion in the next edition.
We could share what we learned from each other and what we gained through this experience. And if you are reading this right now and not sure where you are going for the Seder, make sure to reach out to rabbis at a local synagogue and I am sure they will find you a place to go.
Maimonides writes in his classic work of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah, (Laws of Holidays 6:18) that one who celebrates the holidays only with his family and without providing food to the poor and depressed “is not participating in the joy of God’s commandments but rather the joy of the gut.” We can make our Seder table so much more meaningful if we can ask the question “where are you from?” or “how do you do?” to our new guests rather than (or at least in addition to) our perennial question, “when do we eat?”
The Passover Seder in many ways is about the unity of the Jewish people. In the classic “Dayenu” poem of the Haggadah, it says that it would have been enough had God taken us to the Mountain of Sinai and not given us the Torah. What would have been the purpose of taking us to the mountain if not to give us the Torah? The Ketav Sofer (Shmuel Binyamim Sofer, 1815-1871) writes that we have a tradition that the Jewish people at Mount Sinai were united “as with one man and one heart.” Had the Jewish people not been given the Torah, it still would have been enough for them to experience that unity at the mountain.
Let’s make every effort to bring unity to our Jewish community this Passover by making sure every Jew can be at a seder. Kol ditzrich yeitei veyifsach – Let all who are in need come and share in Passover.
Rabbi Wes Kalmar is spiritual leader for Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah in Glendale. Tell the Chronicle about your Seder-invite experience at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org.