Community Seder held in Danielson

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Mon., Mar. 18, 2013
A traditional Passover plate sits in front of Glenna Snyder, Sheri Abrams and Norman Berman. Photos by D. Coffey.
A traditional Passover plate sits in front of Glenna Snyder, Sheri Abrams and Norman Berman. Photos by D. Coffey.

Norman Berman returned to Danielson on March 17 to participate in the Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society's third annual Interfaith Community Seder. Berman was born to Holocaust survivor parents in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When his family came to the United States in 1949, they settled in Danielson. It was there that a small community of Jewish immigrants and a supportive Christian community joined together to build a temple. It was Berman's first experience of celebrating Passover, one of the most important Jewish celebrations of the year.

The beginning of Passover is marked by one or two festive Seder meals. The first Seder begins with the Haggadah, a retelling of the story of Exodus, when the Jewish people escaped slavery in Egypt. “It's one of the most important stories in the Bible,” Berman said. “It marks the heart of what it means to be human and to be free.”

Seder means “order,” but the Haggadah is a book of living memory, according to Berman. It mixes tradition with what is contemporary. When the first Passover was celebrated 3,000 years ago, the Jews had escaped bondage. The ritual evolves with the times. It calls to mind people everywhere who are poor, hungry, oppressed, victims of war or famine or discriminated against. The call at Passover is an invitation to all who are hungry to come and eat.

More than 80 community members of various faith traditions heeded that call on Sunday. They came to read the story of the Haggadah together, to eat the food and drink the wine symbolic of the Jewish people's struggles and joy. They came to sing and join together in worship and praise. Members of the Killingly-Brooklyn Interfaith Council were present. Representatives of St. James and St. Joseph Churches, the Cornerstone Baptist Church, Grace Church and United Methodist Church in Killingly, as well as the Federated Church of Christ and St. John's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn attended. And family and friends of that original band of Jewish farmers who made Danielson home more than 60 years ago came back for the Seder.

For Mary Ann Thomen, a choir member at FCC, the songs chosen for the service were familiar ones. “You have to remember that as a Christian, the Jewish story is part of our story,” she said. “The Exodus story is part of the story we teach in Sunday School.”

For Bev Richardson, a religious education director at St. James Catholic Church, the Seder was a chance for people to listen to one another, pray and praise God together, and enjoy each other's company.

“The message is that all people should get along,” added John Ferland. “That’s what religion is supposed to teach you. That’s what this is all about - getting along.”

“The challenge of the Haggadah, and this particular Haggadah, is to look for those common themes that we share,” said Berman. “It’s a way to say, 'We share similar struggles. We can work together and make the world even better, more humble and beautiful.'”

The service ended with a call for each person to go out into the world and change it for the better. “We are directed to seek freedom today,” Berman said. “God makes it possible for us to imagine being free of the things that limit us.”

Jews will celebrate Passover at sundown on March 25. The celebration will last for seven days. For information on services at the Temple Beth Israel, contact Alan Turner at 860-428-7018. Services are held on the first Friday evening of the month at 7 p.m. and the second and fourth Saturday of the month at 9 a.m.

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