For Some New Immigrants to Israel, the Second Passover Seder Hasn't Quite Disappeared

Just as immigrants begin to settle into their one-seder routines, in come their two-seder-observing relatives and guests from abroad, reshuffling the familial deck.

Passover's second-seder meal continues to challenge immigrants in Israel as they try to strike a balance between their new holiday customs and those of their out-of-town guests.

The second seder is traditionally observed only by Jewish communities outside Israel on the festival's second night. Jews in Israel, meanwhile, typically have just one seder, on the first night of Passover. For some new immigrants - from children no longer required to sit through another hours-long meal, to thoroughly exhausted, hard-working hosts - this lone seder tradition is a close contender for the holiday's next-best legacy of liberation.

The Klines, of Beit Shemesh, have family in town from the U.S. this week.
Gil Cohen

But just as immigrants begin to settle into their one-seder routines, in come their two-seder-observing relatives and guests from abroad, reshuffling the familial deck.

"It's not a dilemma but a dichotomy," says Sheila Bauman, an absorption counselor at the Jerusalem branch of the Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel. "It really depends on your rabbinic authority."

A Haaretz report in 2010 noted a rise in the number of Orthodox Jews obtaining rabbinic dispensation to forgo the second seder - first instituted with the adoption of the Hebrew calendar in the 4th century. The interpretation of that custom has profound implications for the observance of additional calendar days tacked on to the observance of festivals throughout the year. As happens frequently during years when two-day holidays are preceded or followed by the Sabbath, Diaspora Jews are faced with the prospect of three consecutive days of prayer and feast. For some, it can be too much.

"We've always seen having one day of [holiday as] one of the perks of making aliyah," jests Yediya Fraiman, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, and 30-year resident of Jerusalem.

Lisi Dredze, a 27-year-old native of Chicago, Illinois, says she spent two weeks trying to find a second seder for her visiting father and brother. "I couldn't find one," confessed Dredze, who commenced with her search following Purim last month. Her brother eventually succeeded in locating friends in Jerusalem, who, like him, will hold the second ritual meal.

Meanwhile, some immigrants agree to host the second seders themselves for the sake of the family dynamic. Cindy Kline, a Beit Shemesh resident and native of Skokie, Illinois, has been hosting a second seder for her visiting parents for nearly each of the last 18 years. "It has evolved," Kline says of the Passover tradition. "In the early years we all joined in, but with the passage of time, and as the children have gotten older, things have changed."

In fact, she explains, the Kline home has become something of a destination for second-seder-seeking guests, including students from the neighboring Moshav Zanoah who study at a yeshiva there. This year, the Klines will host a Holocaust survivor, several students and a guest from Austria.

For Kline's 75-year-old mother, each year's crop of fresh faces is a welcome opportunity to distribute the "Pesach Pleasure Parodies" song sheets that she and her colleagues have composed over the years; the songs are set to Broadway show tunes, including those from "Fiddler on the Roof."

"My goal as teacher was to make the Pesach seder wonderful for guests of all ages," says Kline's mother, Shelley Schwartz, a retired music teacher. "It's not just our own seder. It is theirs too."

As her children have grown older, Cindy Kline has observed their growing respect for their grandparents' observance of the additional festival days - mostly notably in the way they are careful not to watch television or use the computer in their grandparents' presence. Their collective wills are tested further on what is for Israelis the day after Passover. Though they are permitted to resume eating leavened bread and to bring out the regular set of dishes, they do not, as for the Schwartzes the day marks an additional eighth day of Passover.

There are some unanticipated perks to having certain family members freed up on the second night, says AACI's Bauman. "On a certain level, it's a lot of fun," she says. "The kids can take pictures. When else can you take pictures of the seder?"

Dov Smith, who immigrated to Israel five months ago, is returning to his hometown of Montreal, Canada, to be with his family on Passover. But as someone who is no longer required to observe the two-seder ritual, he finds himself in a bit of a bind.

"I have to adjust myself to, on the one hand, not needing to celebrate, and on the other hand, having to maintain a certain level of appearances so that people don't get confused and think that I just stopped celebrating the [holiday] altogether," Smith says.

Smith's emigration to Israel proceeded so swiftly that he did not have time to bid farewell to everyone in his old neighborhood. As such, he predicts his reappearance as an Israeli could lead to a series of unanticipated consequences.

"There are people who will not know that I left town altogether, and if they see me driving around town on the second day of Pesach it could certainly raise some eyebrows," says Smith, a public relations professional who works at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As a newly minted Israeli, Smith says he is looking forward to the new holiday configuration he has earned.

"I am thrilled not having to keep two days but only one," Smith adds. "There's a little more freedom, but having the opportunity to regard myself as an Israeli is something I've been looking forward to for a long time."