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Seder Is About Family, Food, Freedom. And Now, It’s Also About the War.

Bonnie Rosenfeld had 38 people crammed into her Rockaway, New Jersey, home Monday night. She’s been hosting Passover Seders for years, but none quite like this. She wanted to address the “elephant in the room” from the start.

As they lit candles to mark the start of the holiday, they also recited a series of prayers alluding to the war in Gaza – for the remaining Israeli hostages, for peace, for the unfolding horrors, a- she said, from both sides.

It was, in his eyes, a recognition of the obvious:

“This night is different,” Ms. Rosenfeld said, invoking the four questions traditionally recited at this holiday. “This Seder is different. »

That sentiment echoed across the country this week, as families and groups of friends gathered for the start of Passover, amid the complex swirl of emotions and heated political debates sparked by the war between Israel and Hamas which has been going on for months.

The festive holiday, for many, seemed rather solemn. And his familiar rituals this year have seemed anything but routine.

Dining room chairs were left empty in symbolic remembrance of the remaining hostages. Guest lists were reduced to avoid interpersonal disagreements. Old stories and prayers took on new meaning. The hackneyed rituals have been modified to adapt to the offbeat atmosphere of the moment. Swords crossed between generations.

“At first I felt worried, like, ‘Oh, my God, this is a tough time to have a Seder,'” said Rabbi Susan Goldberg of Nefesh, an inclusive Jewish spiritual community in eastern Los Angeles.

She realized, however, that the Seder table was the ideal place for the type of dialogue that was so necessary.

“It’s so direct during the Seder,” she said. “When we talk about freedom and captivity, how can we not think of the hostages? She added: “So we say: ‘Let all those who are hungry come and eat,’ and how can we not think of the people of Gaza who are dying of hunger?

But dialogue can be complicated, and many holiday watchers this week struggled to deal with the inevitable tensions of the moment.

Sydney Shaiman, 26, noticed her parents were stressed this weekend because of the Seder they were hosting for 15 people at their Manhattan home. They feared that political debates might offend guests. At the same time, they believed that ignoring the obvious connections between the common themes of Passover – of liberation, freedom and oppression – and current events would leave the Seder empty of substance.

Late Sunday evening, in an effort to ease the tension before it even materialized, her father sent an email to his guests, she said, emphasizing “the importance of coming to the Seder with an open mind and a willingness to engage in conversation.” and opinions that may differ from yours.

The effort, ultimately, was a mixed success: Ms. Shaiman said she felt like the guests were walking on eggshells.

Some Seder participants chose to find comfort in the customs and ritual cadence of the holiday and avoid, briefly, a topic that was otherwise inescapable.

Lindsay Gold, 43, who traveled from Miami to join relatives in Los Angeles, said her family’s Seder passed without any mention of war.

“I think it made things more peaceful to be able to just focus on that,” she said.

But other families have turned old rituals upside down in recognition of this extraordinary time.

In Minneapolis, Ashley Cytron, 85, was overcome with emotion during the Seder at her son’s home, where two dozen guests gathered around the table to read, one by one, the names of the Israeli hostages. At Mr. Cytron’s suggestion, they also assembled a place setting in front of an empty chair with a red rose, a yellow ribbon and a pile of salt — echoing the “missing men’s tables” common at military gatherings.

“We cannot forget,” he said. “We all cannot forget.”

Ben Cooley, 54, communications director for IKAR, a progressive Jewish community based in Los Angeles, hosted a Seder this week with about 15 people. (He called it the only major “totally DIY” Jewish holiday)

His family’s Seder, in the past, has been an opportunity to talk about his personal struggles. They had a tradition of each writing their own “Egypt” – something they felt was holding them back – on scraps of paper, then burning them in a bowl. It could have been a job or a relationship. The children wrote: “My homework”.

This year, the family abandoned that activity and instead read an excerpt from a Seder supplement that addressed the importance of not avoiding the conflicting emotions that many Jews feel: rage and the impulse for revenge for loved ones lost on October 7, fear of anti-Semitism, as well as horror at the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

“The big change was getting out of the personal,” Mr. Cooley said. “It’s not about us.”

Debates and, in some cases, discomfort were inevitable at many Seders across the country.

Aimee Resnick, 19, celebrated the holiday at her family’s home in Centennial, Colorado, taking on many hosting duties because her mother was out of town. This year, that included trying to mediate conversations between her family’s 25 guests, including her two grandmothers.

“My maternal mom is very pro-Israel,” said Ms. Resnick, a student at Northwestern University near Chicago. “My paternal father supports the Palestinian people. »

At one point, Ms. Resnick tried to intervene.

“I was like, ‘Grandma, stop,’ and she said, ‘I don’t want to stop.’ It’s important,” Ms. Resnick said. “So I walked out of the room.” She added: “That’s one of the perks of being a hostess: You get to stay in the kitchen. »

Ms. Resnick said her group skipped certain passages in their traditional Haggadah that seemed dissonant with the realities of the conflict. She said she felt discord between the older Seder guests and the younger ones, some of whom were involved in pro-Palestinian activism.

The generational divide was also evident in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Eleanor Levy, 83, hosted a Passover dinner for a dozen friends and family. For decades, she used Haggadot provided by Maxwell House, the coffee company, readily available at the supermarket. This year, she released a contemporary prayer book with prompts intended to provoke discussions about oppression, peace, and freedom.

It worked. At one point, his 26-year-old grandson, Nolan Dahm, got into a disagreement — “a heated discussion,” in his words — about the protests at Columbia University with some of the octogenarian guests.

The scene – the investigation, the argument, the mutual respect – was precisely what she wanted.

“To me, it’s the Jewish way,” said Ms. Levy, who finally ended the conversation by bringing out a tray of potato kugel. “You ask questions, and if there’s something wrong, you talk about it, you learn about it, you find out. I’ve been alive long enough to know that you won’t change everyone’s opinion in a discussion. But for me, it’s the sign of being alive.

The report was provided by Jill Cowan, Corina Knoll And Livia Albeck-Ripka in California.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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