For The Dialog
REHOBOTH BEACH – A model Passover Seder supper here last month not only commemorated the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery, it also stood as a call to continue the struggle for freedom for all people while giving Catholics a different look at the roots of their faith.
For Catholics, according to Deacon Jim Walls, who organized the March 19 dinner in St. Edmond’s parish hall, “It reminds us that our Lord Jesus was a Jew; he was a faithful Jew. I’m sure he went to the Passover meal many times.”
“The similarity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the similarity between Moses and Jesus, is mind-boggling. It’s where our (Catholic) roots are.”
Cherri Bragg, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Dover, emphasized that the Seder is not simply a reenactment in which the Jewish people recall a major historical event. Rather, it connects Jews to the world around them today.
“The struggle for freedom is a constant struggle,” she said. The supper reminds today’s Jews that they are called to continue that struggle.
The Seder, or Passover supper recalls how God used Moses to gain the Jewish people freedom from Egyptian slavery some 3,000 years ago.
At the dinner, Walls described similarities between the Easter Triduum, which begins Holy Thursday and ends Easter Sunday, and the Seder Passover celebration. Both involve miracles: for the Israelites the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, and for Catholics the Resurrection. Both are about redemption and freedom: the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery and through Jesus, all people’s freedom from “the slavery of sin and the power of death.” Both “involve a ritual with food that has prescribed prayers that bring the past into the present.”
About 80 people participated in what Bragg called a “model” Seder. “It’s not the same as if it were in my home.”
While the Seder at St. Edmond’s was not completely kosher – in accord with Jewish law on how food is prepared – it was representative of what a modern Passover Seder is, said Bragg, who oversaw a team of volunteers that prepared the food and who provided commentary during the meal.
Each table had a Seder plate with a lamb bone, a roasted egg, parsley, horseradish and “charoses,” three slices of matzo, an unleavened bread, and an extra cup of wine. Each table setting included a small cup of salt water.
“Everything is symbolic,” Bragg said.
The lamb bone symbolized the shank bone Jewish families used to spread the blood of a lamb, roasted for the meal, over their door mantles. This spared their households from the final plague, the killing of first-born sons, that led Pharaoh to free the Jews. The egg represents the cycle of life.
The charoses, a mixture of apples, nuts, honey, wine and cinnamon, symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelites in slavery when they built pyramids. The parsley represents springtime, a new life and freedom; it’s dipped into salt water to recall the tears of the slavery days. Horseradish recalls the bitterness of life as slaves. The matzo represents the unleavened bread hastily pulled from ovens as the Israelites fled Egypt.
The extra cup of wine is called Elijah’s cup. According to Jewish tradition, Elijah will return one day to announce a new Messiah.
Bragg explained the symbolism of the food and the meal’s four cups of wine – the cups of sanctification, plagues, redemption and praise – before each was consumed. Each item included a blessing in Hebrew, then in English.
The supper included the re-telling of the Passover story, the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
This was Adelaide Auwarda’s first Seder. A son in Philadelphia is now dating a Jewish woman. The traditional, ritual meal gave her insights to the woman’s faith.
“I’d never been invited to a Seder before,” she said. “I never realized how complicated it was.”
Bern Worthing had attended a Seder once before, while living in California in the 1980s. Those at that Seder she attended dressed up in fine clothes “to rejoice in the now rather than [recall] the bitterness of the past.” St. Edmond’s Seder Supper, she thought, “provided a better insight to the Jewish celebration.”