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 It Started with a Seder

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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: It Started with a Seder   Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:35 pm

I wrote this up two years ago for the now defunct "Jews by Choice" website. But since most of the readers of this forum were not active members of that website (although could have been silent readers, I suppose), I'm updating and reposting it here.

"It Started with a Seder"

I really do not have the time to spare to write this post because I ought to be cleaning my house in preparation for Passover. But as I struggle to stop hyperventilating when thinking of how little time I have and how much I need to do to clean and convert my kitchen, I try to remember why Pesach is still my favorite holiday. So I want to offer this heart-warming true story of how a seder invitation changed someone's life.

Aliza Hausman rightly points out that it is improper for someone to tell someone else's story and this point was also made by a rabbi at a Taste of Limmud learning session on "Lashon hara" But I will tell this story from my point of view as a supporting player although not the main subject.

It was about 16 years ago and our first Passover in the Chicago area. After seven years in the working world, I had decided to return to school for a PhD, and so I relocated with my husband and baby in tow. We didn't know anyone except for one of my cousins who lived in Chicago. We had only recently discovered that although none of the dozen shuls within walking distance of our home was "right" for us, there was a wonderful lay-led minyan that we really liked. But we didn't know the minyan members that well yet, and most of them couldn't come to a seder at our house anyway due a number issues due to their rather strict Jewish observance levels relative our level at that time.

But a seder doesn't seem proper if it doesn't have plenty of guests. As we thought about whom we could invite, I realized that Dmitry, the shy grad student from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) who was in many of my classes, must be Jewish with a last name like "Epstein". I hoped that he wouldn't take offense if I invited him to our seder since I would clearly be judging his religious identity based only on his name. But he was delighted by my invitation. He said that he and his roommate had known that Passover was approaching and had wanted to celebrate it now that they lived in a country that did not suppress their religious expression, but they had no idea how to do so. They wondered if they should attend synagogue. So I told him that attending a seder was the most important Passover ritual, and invited his roommate as well.

The roommate, Kiril, was a perfect seder guest. He was so excited and enthusiastic. And he asked lots of questions, which is what is supposed to be done at a seder. My daughter was only two years old, so we coached her to say "How night different?", but truthfully she was too young to ask real questions. Kiril was curious about everything and he seemed to drink in the experience.

We invited both Dmitry and Kiril to our house for a seder for several years. Kiril continued to enliven our seders with questions and enthusiasm. At some point, he told us that he had started to go to Friday night services at a Conservative synagogue in Chicago and we were happy that his interest in Judaism had evidently been kindled. Later he moved out to the far west suburbs, but still came to our house for Passover seders.

Then there was period of a couple years when we did not host a seder. One Passover we spent the holiday visiting friends in Israel. The next year we were invited to other people's homes for both of the first two nights. Although in those years Dmitry could have attended a seder at the university Hillel, I'm sure he didn't because although he enjoyed our seders, the religious part didn't seem to excite him. Since Kiril was active in a synagogue, I assumed that he found other seders to attend.

The next time we invited Dmitry to our seder and asked about contact information for Kiril who had moved again, Dmitry told us that Kiril had "gotten really religious" and even kept kosher. I wondered what that meant. After all, Dmitry might have thought that we were "really religious" in comparison to his totally secular life. I called Kiril and found that he and his fiance lived in Chicago, but sometimes they came up to my area on Sundays for some kind of class and liked to go to a kosher burger place afterwards which is only about a mile down the street from my house. So we arranged to meet them there.

Over lunch, Kiril explained that because he was not halachically Jewish, he was in the process of undergoing an Orthodox conversion. Because of high rates of intermarriage many people classified as "Jews" from the FSU are not halachically Jewish, but we had no idea that this was the case for Kiril. His fiance was also in the process of studying for an Orthodox conversion. I think they might have met in conversion classes or something because it was clear that they had both been studying for conversion before they met. They attended a tiny Orthodox shul of mostly elderly members whom I think kind of saw these young people like their grandchildren. They could not possibly attend a seder at my house because they did not travel on "chag" and could not eat at a house like mine that was not strictly kosher (although it is now).

So Kiril's conversion is why this story is indeed appropriate for this "Jewish by Choice" forum. The same joy and enthusiasm that Kiril had shown at our seders now showed in his face as he described his new observance and embrace of his Jewish heritage. But it all started with a seder. The Passover seder is a beautiful and moving ritual that has real power to awaken the latent Jewish "neshama" in prospective converts. So I encourage you to invite many guests to your seders---you never know whether it might change someone's life.


Last edited by Debbie B. on Wed Mar 28, 2012 6:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: It Started with a Seder   Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:24 am

My first introduction to Judaism was at the seders hosted by my college.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: It Started with a Seder   Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:42 am

My very first Jewish experience was at the Passover seder of the home of a student from the freshman dorm of my boyfriend (now my husband). My husband warned me that it would be long and kind of boring, but I loved it and came away from it thinking that the Christians had really lost out when they didn't keep that Jewish tradition. So I guess you could say that that seder of 30 years ago set me on a path that changed my life. I wonder what that family would think if they knew where it led me.
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searchinmyroots

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PostSubject: Re: It Started with a Seder   Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:35 pm

That is a very heartwarming story Debbie B. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I have heard similiar stories from Shabbat experiences as well.

Keep the tradition going!
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