A Different Kind of Seder

A huge communal Passover seder was held Tuesday night here for the hundreds of Soviet Jews who will not be permitted to openly observe the holiday.

More than 300 individuals, including a host of members of Congress, former refuseniks and White House officials, gathered for the meal. Many assisted in reading portions of the special Haggadah that interposed portions of the traditional text dealing with the exodus of the Jews with references to the plight of Soviet Jews.

The guests, symbolically invited in the Kiddush to “come and dine,” included refuseniks Yakov Levin, Yuli and Tanya Edelshtein, Vladimir and Maria (Masha) Slepak and Ida Nudel. A chair was left empty at each table and everyone was given a card and bracelet with the name of a refusenik.

“Our task on this seder night is to recount the story of the exodus from Egypt,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Greenberg of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership who led the seder. “Had God not redeemed us, we would still be enslaved. Others have not yet been redeemed. Our task is to do God’s work.”

The Four Questions asked during the seder were followed by former refuseniks Leon Charney, David Goldfarb and Leonid Slepak, Vladimir and Maria’s son, asking why it is forbidden in the Soviet Union to study Hebrew, emigrate or celebrate Jewish holidays.

Four drops of wine spilled for the ten plagues of Egypt were followed by more drops spilled for the suffering of Jews in the Soviet Union brought on by the loss of freedom, education, speech, identity, religious expression and emigration to Israel.

Cantor Misha Raitzin, a former refusenik, said when he was a teenager in Siberia he conduct a seder in private by taking four pounds of potatoes and dividing them into portions to represent the different courses of the meal.

“No one could know about this, it was very forbidden,” Raitzin said. “I’m sure there are many Jews who are conducting a Passover seder secretly. Hopefully their dream will come true and they can conduct the seder as we do in freedom.”

The special seder, chaired by Richard Ravitch, concluded with the traditional plea for “next year in Jerusalem.”

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