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Seder is a time to reflect on family, values, history

Seder plate

Traditional symbols on a seder plate for Passover.

Almost 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. Since then, Jews across the world have celebrated Passover to remember the historic event. Passover begins on the 15th night of Nisan — this year at sundown Friday, April 19 — and lasts for eight days.

For many Jews, celebrating Passover consists of reading from the Haggadah and a Seder with family and friends. However, many Jews, regardless of the stream of Judaism they follow, put their own twists on the holiday, often incorporating family traditions with their level of observance. 

Ben Yazdi, a freshman at the Orthodox Yeshivat Kadimah High School, believes that the customs of Passover are very important and should be strictly followed. 

“[Our Seder] has all of the traditional things that the rabbis instituted,” said Yazdi, a member of Young Israel Congregation. “We discuss the different foods (we eat on the holiday) in depth [and] try to understand the reasoning behind all of the detailed traditions to have a better understanding of what the seder is supposed to look like.” 

Through these specific practices and traditions, Yazdi feels a connection to his past.

“Being Orthodox makes me feel more connected to my history,” he said. “I can relive stories and [understand] what life was like. I feel that if I was not Orthodox, I would not be able to connect the way I do during Pesach.”

The notion of family is prevalent for Yazdi, especially when it comes to Jewish holidays like Passover. 

“[Passover is] always spent with my family,” he said. “Some years, we go away, and some years we stay [at home].”

Maya Lev, a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona and a freshman at Parkway North High School, also believes that family makes Passover special. 

“Most years, I celebrate it with my immediate family, my grandparents and my cousins,” Lev said. “Some years, I celebrate with close family friends. I love Passover because I get to see [and] catch up with family I haven’t seen in a long time.”

In addition, Lev’s family has their own traditions that make her look forward to the holiday every year.“

We set up the table like the crossing of the (Red) Sea, decorating it in different ways,” she said. “Also, when we remember the 10 plagues, we act it out. We throw a bunch of plastic frogs around, hail is marshmallows [and] we go around the table and reflect on our year and how we can improve ourselves.”

Lev said she takes pride in the way her family, which identifies with the Conservative stream of Judaism, observes the holiday

“When we read the Haggadah, we read every single part of it and say all of the blessings,” she said. “No matter what age you are, you [are supposed] to read a section of it. We talk about religion, and we pray, too.”

Like Lev and Yazdi, family plays an important role in how Aaron Bennett, a sophomore at Parkway South High School and member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, a Reform synagogue, celebrates Passover.“

I spend Passover with my family who live in Kansas City,” he said. “I like Passover because the dietary restrictions (such as not eating any foods with flour in them) make me think about how lucky we are to be where we are today and have the freedoms that we do.”

He also thinks about how certain traditions make the holiday what it is.

“We talk about the story of how the Jews escaped Egypt,” Bennett said. “We [also] have a [complete] Seder with the traditional Seder plate and dinner, and follow the dietary restrictions traditionally followed during Passover.”

Yet even with these traditional ways of celebrating the holiday, he says his practice of Judaism gives him more freedom to follow what he believes in and do what he feels to be right.“

As Reform Jews, we don’t recline, we just sit at the table,” Bennett said. “Our Seder is usually a little shorter, too. To me, being a Reform Jew allows me to practice Judaism in a way that makes sense to me.”

His final thoughts about Passover proved to be standard opinion among the Jewish teens:

“[Passover] is a good time to be with family while reflecting on what it means to be Jewish and reflect on how we got to where we are today.”