Jewish community gathers for Seder feast on Passover

Think of it as a multigenerational family dinner party at which special foods are served and special traditions are followed, which includes more than a dozen separate elements, and for which preparation begins days earlier.

Oh, and it’s a dinner party that’s not just about dining and socializing but about spirituality, too, so everybody will be arriving with definite expectations.

Bottom line: It’s no wonder that there probably are more people hoping to be invited to somebody else’s Passover Seder today than are hosting Seders themselves.

Passover, the weeklong celebration that begins at sunset today, commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. It’s "the most popular of all the holidays," said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Congregation P’nai Tikvah, and the Passover Seder that is held on its first night — in some traditions, on its first and second nights — is "an evening of remembering the communal memory of redemption from slavery."

Many Jewish people celebrate by attending community Passover Seders. However, Passover Seders typically are home-based celebrations attended by children, parents, grandparents and friends, and that can make hosting one intimidating for first-timers.

"There are people who go through their entire lives going to other people’s Seders and never running their own," Mintz said.

And that’s why a half-dozen Southern Nevadans gathered on a recent Sunday morning at Mintz’s Summerlin home to learn about hosting a Passover Seder.

Mintz said it’s the first time she has had such a class, which grew out of a suggestion offered by a member of her congregation.

"It’s just a way to help demystify it and help to make it as creative and as enjoyable and as meaningful as possible," she said.

A few of Mintz’s students-for-a-day had hosted Passover Seders before. Others hadn’t but might wish to someday. But all welcomed the chance to view a holiday they already know from a slightly different perspective.

"When you do a Seder, you try to look at it in a new way every single year," Mintz said. "You try to innovate and reconstruct and figure out another way of telling the story that brings a new dimension for it."

Mintz began by showing her guests a display of Haggadot — the written guides used to conduct the Passover Seder — in her kitchen. While all follow the same basic outline, Mintz’s collection includes Haggadot centered on remembrance of the Holocaust, Haggadot filled with contemporary imagery, Haggadot that feature traditional illuminations, and even a pop-up Haggadah .

The casual, and entertaining, session included such pre-Passover preparations as ridding the home of chametz, or foods made from wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt, in a process that can take days.

She discussed the symbolic foods found on the Passover Seder plate, including maror, a bitter herb (represented by a piece of horseradish root) symbolizing the bitterness of slavery; a roasted shank bone, or z’roa, representing the sacrificial lamb and that "God brought us out with a strong hand and outstretched arm"; and charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts and honey representing the mortar that "was a symbol of our servitude."

Mintz discussed the steps — the washing of hands, the drinking of wine, the saying of prayers — that are universal elements of a Passover Seder. However, Mintz also noted that the way in which the Passover story is retold at a Seder can vary.

For example, a lighter, more interactive tack can be taken to involve children in what otherwise could be a fidget-worthy event.

"In doing so, the kids come to feel more like they are part and parcel of something greater than their own family, which is really important," Mintz said.

A creative slant also can engage adults who already have heard the story dozens of times. Mintz recalled one Passover that included a trip to Red Rock for, among other things, a walk over a dry creek bed in symbolic recall of the parting of the Red Sea.

"By the time we were at the end of the (story), we were sitting on a berm, looking back at the skyline, and what do we see? Of course: the Luxor (pyramid)," Mintz said, smiling.

"In every year, you are supposed to be as if you were walking through the experience of leaving Egypt yourself, so what better place to do that than Las Vegas?" Mintz said.

Guest Nancey Eason converted to Judaism in 2006 and attended Passover Seders even before that. Eason — who moved to Las Vegas recently — has hosted her own Passover Seder but said attending Mintz’s class helped her to think about Passover and the Seder in new ways.

"The thing about the Seder is, you’re supposed to learn something new every time. You’re supposed to live the story as much as you can," she said.

"It’s like anytime you pick up a book you’ve read 50 times, every time you read it you read something into it because you’re a different person."

Rachel Piekarsky had taken other classes with Mintz and said the rabbi does "a good job not just being informative" but "making you feel connected to things a little bit more, too."

Piekarsky hasn’t yet hosted her own Passover Seder.

"I think I could never do this," she said. "I don’t host a lot of parties, so it seems like it’s very complicated. But (Mintz) makes it a little simplified, too."

Piekarsky hasn’t ruled out hosting one, though. Just not this year. She’s expecting.

But next Passover? "I’m going to do it next year," Piekarsky said.

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.

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