With its carefully prepared and arranged foods, the benediction and the breaking of the matzo, Seder marks the start of the eight days of Passover, when those of the Jewish faith commemorate the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.
Each of the six foods, arrayed on special Seder plates, is symbolic of an event in the story of the Exodus. The three unleavened matzos symbolize the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt, leaving even before the dough could rise. The Beitzah, a roasted egg, is symbolic of life.
Temple member Steven Whitton recalls Seders from his childhood growing up in Columbia, S.C. Whitton recalled how his grandmother, Bessie Berry, would start preparing for the meal a week in advance.
She’d begin so early and for good reason, Whitton said, because for many years his grandmother had the particular honor of hosting the local rabbi at her home.
“One of my memories as a kid was my grandmother’s preparations for all this,” Whitton said, describing how his grandmother would grind the gefilte fish and mold it into meatballs, which she’d plop into boiling water.
“One of my favorite things that she made was the gefilte fish.”
Whitton recalled all the pots boiling atop her stove, their lids clang, clang, clanging as the contents simmered away.
“Once we took a bite of that with our matzo, we knew that Passover was here,” he said.
Because he liked them so much, his grandmother always made an extra jar of gefilte fish for him to carry home.
Once the rabbi arrived with his wife and daughter, the family would welcome in the Sabbath and the service would begin.
Whitton said during congregational Seders he often finds his mind wandering back to his grandmother’s table all those many years ago.
“That’s what I think of everytime I get together with people for Passover,” Whitton said.
Rena Schoenberg serves as the temple’s secretary and has organized the congregational Seder for many years. Because it falls during spring break this year, Schoenberg said instead of the regular 45 or so, she expects around 30 to attend the Seder.
And as they have for the last several years, attending the temple Seder this year will also be former members of the Temple Beth Israel in Gadsden, which closed in 2010.
Schoenberg gets help from other temple members, who prepare beef briskets and several of the ceremonial foods like the apple, nut and wine mixture called Haroset. Schoenberg spent hours last weekend making about 140 matzo balls for the matzo ball soup.
Speaking of her own childhood Seders, Schoenberg said she recalls with fondness growing up in the small Jewish community of Greenville, S.C.
“I am the youngest of four children, and so it was a lively time,” Schoenberg said of those early Passovers.
Back in Greenville, there were family Seders on the first night of Passover and congregational Seders at the temple held on the second night, she said. Schoenberg’s two grown sons now live out of state, and they sometimes come home for Seders or occasionally join a Seder close to their current homes.
For those that choose not to attend a Seder, that’s fine too, Schoenberg said.
“It’s a very individual choice,” she said. “You’re still the same amount of Jewish whether you have a Seder or not.”
Schoenberg said it’s important to remember that the reason for Passover is to recall the Exodus from Egypt, “so that our children know. Jewish tradition is so important, and whether my children observe the Passover each year or not is not as important as them knowing about it.”
During Seder, temple member Sherry Blanton always thinks of the stories her mother used to tell about her grandmother growing up in New York City. Her grandmother and grandfather died before Blanton was born, but she got to know them through those stories.
The child of Russian immigrants, Blanton’s grandmother kept a set of Seder dishes underneath her bed. Blanton recalled her mother saying her grandmother would stand all day long frying matzo, and about how she’d have to put the enormous Seder meals into an icebox because she didn’t have a refrigerator.
“Passover to me is about my mother’s childhood,” Blanton said. “She loved to talk about her mother’s Passover, and I think that my Passover memory is her Passover memory.”