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