It was an experiment that went well. Rabbi Daniel Dorsch began the first night communal seder April 19 at Congregation Etz Chaim by stating that he initially thought 35 people would sign up and was overjoyed to have a crowd of 180. The mood was elevated as generational families mingled with visitors, and most guests were secretly joyful that they were not at home chopping apples.
The evening coincided with the Sabbath, and Rabbi Dorsch was wise to start prior to sundown to allow for photos before the start of the service. The rabbi did a fine job of managing the group by interspersing his custom-made haggadah with handouts and passing the microphone for participation. The pace was lively as worshippers had to pass around questions and even circle the table to ponder various topics such as:
Eat only matzah brie all year, or only cholent?
Have freed the Jews and brought them to Uganda or enslaved them in Israel?
Still be in Egypt or be in school 100 hours a week?
Have a nine-hour seder with gourmet food or a one-hour seder with just OK food?
There were more serious topics as well.
Speaking of food, the caterer Tropics was under the mashgiach supervision of Rabbi Dorsch who said, “I personally supervised all aspects of kashrut from delivery on.”
The staff did a yeoman’s job of food quality, service, and variety. Each table was equipped with a seder plate, pickles and cole slaw. The entrees served family style were preceded by matzah ball soup, gefilte fish (not from the jar) and broiled fresh herbed salmon. Then came the paraded platters of chicken breast stuffed with spinach, smashed red potatoes, broiled cubed potatoes, a second variety of crispy chicken, grilled vegetables, eggplant, peppers and squash. The desserts did not disappoint: poached pears, peach cobbler and finally a crumbled lady finger fluff, any one of which would have been “Dayenu.” Sara Bee wine was plentiful. Even Passover ketchup was proffered.
Congregant Sandy Bailey said, “This year, instead of preparing it all, I combined family with friends to reserve an entire table. It worked out so well that I hope it becomes a synagogue tradition.”
Rabbi Dorsch concluded, “I was absolutely delighted with this year’s seder here. Being away from our homes in Canada and New Jersey, over these past three years, Etz Chaim has become our family ‘home away from home and that’s a lot of what it’s all about.’” The Dorsch’s son Zev stole the show with his Pharaoh costume and gold sword.
In its most recent airing, CBS “Sunday Morning” reported that 23 percent of U.S. Jews attend a religious service every month, but 70 percent attended a seder. Yasher koach to Rabbi Dorsch and Congregation Etz Chaim for their success. Maybe next year, nights one and two?