Looking for the Seder Jew

2013_jesse_grossSince the release of the Pew Study of Jewish Americans last fall there has been ample discussion in the Jewish community about the vitality of the Jewish people. Despite all the scary statistics, however, the Pew Study also revealed some information that may give us a sense of where the good stuff is happening.

According to Pew, more than 70 percent of American Jews attend a Passover Seder. This statistic is definitely one for the ìit’s good for the Jewish peopleî column. We have heard about the bagel-and-lox Jew, the gastronomic Jew, the cultural Jew. When I ask around my circles, I often hear tropes of family being together, with Bubbie’s matzo ball soup, stories, tradition and feeling cited as reasons to participate. So it does not seem too odd that someone would religiously attend a Seder every year but remain absent from Jewish life for the rest of it.

I often tell the stories of preparing for Passover meals with my mother and grandmothers as a main influence in my decision to become a rabbi. I did not grow up in a religious family, but my family was religious about our culture and our tradition. The stories I would hear about the Jewish people and my own individual family while preparing kugel and gefilte fish with the women of my family are at the foundation of my own Jewish identity. I only came to love the stories of the rabbis and the Torah because of the oral Torah I collected while my hands were elbow deep in matzo meal.

This year, Charm City Tribe is hosting a second night Seder. While it is not for the halachically observant, it is an effort to bring together a critical mass of folks who are looking to participate in and act out the rituals of our tradition as it relates to the Passover meal. The Seder is scheduled to take place at Area 405, an art gallery in Station North that currently has an exhibit in which half of the space is covered in pink sand and the other room — where we will dine — contains  multiple wooden structures that capture the feeling of the building the Israelites did before they left Egypt. We have taken the staples of the entire Haggadah and crafted a placemat that our participants will use for the evening. Perhaps most exciting is the Holy Hallel Band we have put together for the Find the Afikomen Hallel after-party.

I have mentioned time and again that one value of Charm City Tribe is that everyone will always leave with something they didn’t have before. I didn’t know about Hallel or the Seder that takes place after the meal until well into my 20s. No one is to blame, it was just not my journey. I believe most secular, unaffiliated Jews may also not know. So what better way to introduce the masses to the most amazing collection of Jewish music that we sing on joyous occasions than to get musicians from some of Baltimore’s greatest bands to perform Hallel after our festive meal?

As we enter into the season in which we move along the continuum from narrow places to liberation, it is my hope that this year’s Pesach season will be an unforgettable one for our Charm City Tribe community and one that reminds us of our holy task this time of year — that each of us should see ourselves as if we have left Egypt and be inspired to pursue issues of justice and liberation in our own time.

Rabbi Jessy Gross runs Charm City Tribe, a program of the Jewish Community Center.

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