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Community of Faith: Non-Jews learn Seder essentials
Programs help women in interfaith marriages learn how to keep Jewish traditions.
Candice Hannigan - For the Journal-Constitution
Thursday, April 21, 2005

Preparing any holiday meal is stressful enough. But the pressure can seem overwhelming if you're a non-Jewish woman charged with setting up a Passover Seder meal for your Jewish husband and his family.

"I can't think of any one meal that more defines a Jewish home than a Seder meal," said Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, rabbi emeritus at The Temple in Atlanta, where he served full time for 33 years. Sugarman now is active in educating women in interfaith marriages who are dedicated to raising their children in the Jewish faith.

"These women could easily come in and say, 'You do what you want to do, and I'll do what I want to do,' " he said. "The beauty of this is the women I've been working with have really been able to maintain their own spiritual identity and at the same time embrace totally the traditions and customs of a Jewish home and Jewish family."

The rabbi recently led an instructional session on preparing a Seder meal, guiding 10 women step-by-step through the Haggadah, the story of the holiday. The program, called Coffee Talk, is part of The Mother's Circle, an effort led by east Cobb resident Debbie Antonoff to support and educate these "unsung heroes" of the Jewish faith.

The Mother's Circle programs are sponsored by the Jewish Outreach Institute through a grant from The Marcus Foundation. The institute is a national organization that provides programs and services to interfaith families.

Antonoff also directs a program called Building Blocks, a September-May session that offers an in-depth look at the Jewish faith. Both are opportunities for women to share their fears and understand they're not alone. "We're there to relieve their anxieties," she said.

Participants range from women active in their Christian faith to those considering a conversion to Judaism. Sugarman credits the women with creating a "spiritual wholeness in their homes."

As the non-Jewish mothers are working to learn tradition for their families, Rabbi Shalom Lewis has noticed a change in the makeup of those sharing the Seder meal. His experience has been that the Jewish celebrant is less likely to see grandma or a favorite uncle at the table, and more apt to find a neighbor or friend of a friend.

"On the one hand, all the traditional rituals --- the items on the table --- are the same we've been practicing for thousands of years," said Lewis, rabbi at Marietta's Congregation Etz Chaim. "What has changed is the sociology of the Jewish people and movement from the intensely populated Jewish communities in America."

Lewis remembers boyhood stories his father told about celebrating holidays with family members who lived just a block away. The Passover meal became a progressive dinner as each household hosted a portion of the Seder.

As the years have passed and families began to separate, gathering the immediate family for a holiday takes more effort. It's a bittersweet turn of events for Lewis.

"On the other hand, it's sad because of the nature of the Jewish community moving out in this country, and we don't have the intimacy we once had. The sweet part is that friends have become significant players in our lives."

BOOKS

"Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder's Meaning Revealed, the Haggadah's Story Retold" by Rabbi Nathan Laufer. (Jewish Lights Publishing, 224 pages)

"More than an invaluable resource for everyone who leads a Seder, this book uses the Passover Haggadah as a prism through which to examine the story of the Jewish people. It makes us think about the past even as it challenges us to reflect upon our Jewish lives today."

--- Deborah E. Lipstadt, director of the Rabbi Donald Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University

THE MOTHER'S CIRCLE
> What: A program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children.
> Next meeting: A Coffee Talk session will meet at 7:30 p.m. May 11 at La Madeleine, 1165 Perimeter Center West.
> Information: Call Debbie Antonoff at 770-973-3528 or e-mail Debbie@TheMothers Circle.org. Visit www.joi.org or www.TheMothersCircle.org.






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