That is when the congregation of Temple Beth-El in Anniston will gather for this year’s Seder meal, the centerpiece of the eight-day Passover celebration, in which Jews retell the story of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.
There will be new faces at the table this year: former members of Temple Beth Israel in Gadsden, which shut its doors in May after more than 80 years.
“They weren’t able to sustain and support themselves,” said Gary Schoenberg, president of Temple Beth-El. “We’ve welcomed them as our guests and potentially regular congregants. Some of them have been traveling here to participate with us.”
Several smaller temples around the country have closed in recent years. “We’re very fortunate in Anniston,” Schoenberg said. “We have a small Jewish community, but we’re very strong, and determined to keep things going.
“The whole thing about Passover,” he added, “is that the Jewish people have been terrorized from the beginning of time, and the Jewish people have survived and will continue to survive.”
Rena Schoenberg, who is married to Gary and serves as secretary for the temple, is expecting about 45 people at the Seder meal on Monday. They will feast on beef brisket and those quarts and quarts of matzo ball soup.
Matzo balls are round dumplings made from matzo meal, which is finely ground matzo, or unleavened bread.
Only unleavened bread is eaten during Passover because the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to let their dough rise.
It’s a flat bread, more like a cracker. “It tastes like unsalted saltines,” said Rena Schoenberg.
The Seder meal will end with desserts that are made without any leavening (no yeast, no baking powder, no baking soda).
The tables will be set with the finest linens, china and crystal. At each setting will be an individual Seder plate, containing ceremonial foods that symbolize various parts of the story of the Exodus. (See graphic.)
The basic story is told in what’s called the Haggadah. “Seder” means “order,” as in the order of the service that tells the story. Rabbi David Baylinson, one of two rabbis who serve at Temple Beth-El, will lead the Seder service.
The Seder table also includes a cup of wine set out for the prophet Elijah, who is prophesied to return to Earth to herald the coming of the Messiah. These days, “in this era of equality,” said Rena Schoenberg, there is also a cup of wine set out for Miriam, the sister of Moses.
The Seder is not finished, however, until the children are finished. Post-dinner activities include children opening the door for Elijah, and searching for a piece of hidden matzo. “You cannot conclude the service until it is found,” Rena Schoenberg said.