A traditional Jewish celebration was observed at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 21st and Polk St., with an authentic Passover Seder on Monday April 14, the first day of Passover.
A seder is a ritual meal recounting the story of God’s freeing of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. For Christians it recalls Jesus’ Last Supper and the Jewish practices observed by Jesus.
While Passover celebrations aren’t new to First Congregational UCC, member Mary Ann June said this year’s seder was a moving experience for the 35 people who attended.
“This year was extra special because everything was planned by Dr. Richard Abel, who being Jewish has celebrated Passover all of his life,” she said. Dr. Abel, dean of academics at Barton Community College, shared information about the meaning of the meal as well as memories about growing up in New York.
“We all found this a moving experience – authentic, traditional, warm and inviting,” June said.
Dr. Abel said he and his wife, Barton English instructor Jaime Oss, began attending the church last November and plan to become members. In December, he was invited to do a presentation on Hanukkah.
“I’m not giving up my Jewish background,” Abel said. But his wife is a Christian and he attends church with her.
In Jewish families, Passover is celebrated completely in the home over eight days. The seder is traditionally held on the first night of Passover.
While many Christian churches have a Passover Seder on Maundy Thursday, Abel said he made the experience as authentic as possible. A couple of other Jewish people from the community also attended.
“There are two parts,” he said of the ritual. First there is a ceremonial time at the table that retells the story of Moses and the Jews leaving Egypt and leaving slavery behind. Abel’s presentation was mostly done in English, but also did some of it in Hebrew.
The second part of the seder is the meal.
It took a trip to Wichita to purchase some of Kosher foods needed.
“We had a very traditional meal,” Abel said. “We started off with gefilte fish, then matzo ball soup.” Dumplings in this soup are made with matzo, which is unleavened bread. There were chicken and brisket entrees and vegetables, along with a potato kugel, a baked “pudding” which Abel said is more of a of casserole.
It was fun hearing someone say, “I think I’ll have a second helping of matzo ball soup,” and then, “I don’t think I’ve ever said that before,” Abel said.
“I think everybody really embraced putting this together and doing things that they’ve never done before. It was wonderful.”
Other area churches have also had Passover Seders or programs about the meal during the Lenten season. In a recent blog, Rabbi Evan Moffic from suburban Chicago writes in favor of Christians and Jews celebrating Passover together in this way.
“When done well a church seder can deepen a Christian’s appreciation of the Jewish roots of Christianity and provide a meaningful spiritual experience,” Moffic writes. “The origins of the seder are the Passover meal described in detail in the Book of Exodus, which is also part of the Christian scripture. While the Exodus story is central to Jewish identity, it is also part of Christianity. We do not hold an exclusive claim on it.”
Moffic notes that President Obama has held seders at the White House every year of his presidency. “It is no accident church seders have grown throughout this period. The deepest learning does not come through lectures or books. It comes when we experience the rituals and traditions of one another. Passover is wonderful opportunity to do so.”
Abel would agree.
“I feel more Jewish than I’ve done in years,” he said of opportunities to share with his Christian friends. “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to go back and refresh my roots and my heritage.”