A seder plate.
Joan Nathan's seder plate Photo by Vered Guttman
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After a number of years when the dining hall at Kibbutz Haogen had been silent year-round, even during Passover, singing can now be heard from the building that once was the beating heart of the kibbutz.

Kibbutz Movement sources say that some 180 kibbutzim (about two-thirds of the movement's members ) are continuing to hold collective Passover seders, although they admit that in recent years the phenomenon of family seders has also been growing.

After the members of Haogen, northeast of Netanya, had already stopped celebrating the communal seder for some time, four young members of the kibbutz revived the event in the communal dining hall two years ago - but with a twist: Many of the guests around the table do not belong to the kibbutz, but rather are people who can't afford to pay for a festive meal or are simply seeking company on the holiday eve.

Gradually other kibbutz members have been calling for a renewal of the old custom and are joining the celebration in its new format: Tonight some 30 members of Haogen are expected to participate. The festivities have been organized by Yossi Gertler, Galia Shai, Elisha Shmerer and Raz Efrat, kibbutzniks in their 20s and 30s.

"The initiative was conceived after a Purim party we celebrated on the kibbutz. We had a bit of money left and we thought about what to do with it," relates Gertler. "At the first seder, we hosted 85 people [from outside the kibbutz] and it was very jolly. Last year we decided to do it again and 150 people came. This year we already have 200 confirmed guests, and we won't be able to take any more."

The four young kibbutz members have in recent weeks been gathering donations of food for the seder. The kibbutz is also underwriting the expense of the buses that will transport the celebrants. Efrat, a chef, will oversee the preparation of the festive meal, and many members of Haogen have enlisted to help with things like arranging flowers and making desserts.

"No one has remained indifferent to this project," says Gertler. "We are transforming this evening into one big family celebration. It's already becoming a festive tradition."

Gertler realizes that the dining hall will never go back to serving its original function as the principal meeting place for kibbutz members, and says, "We've become accustomed to that. For me it's enough to see the people sitting there on this one evening, singing and happy. It warms the heart. I'm glad we've succeeded in giving meaning to the dining hall again."