By Jeff Odom
Kelsie Buller stood humbly in front of the group gathered for Shoresh David Messianic Synagogue’s annual community Passover Seder March 30.
As a hush fell over the crowd, Rabbi Larry A. Johnson motioned for Buller to open the Seder with the playing of the shofar, a large wind instrument shaped like a ram’s horn.
The long, loud hum of the horn echoed off the walls of Trinity Church’s Fellowship Hall in Wesley Chapel, which hosted the event and signaled the beginning to a celebration of life, family and faith.
The Passover Seder is a yearly Jewish ceremony and meal that features each of the 15 steps found in the Haggadah, a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Seder. According to Johnson, it acts as an annual memorial to the period when God passed over the houses of the Jews to prevent the slaying of the first-born of Israel while they were slaves in Egypt.
The service starts with what is known as Kadeish, or the blessing and first cup of wine. That leads into traditional Passover songs, eating of bitter herbs such as parsley and horseradish called maror to symbolize struggle and the consumption of charoseth, an apple and walnut mixture that denotes mortar for bricks.
Then, the maror and charoseth are put together in a mixture on a matza cracker for a Korech Hillel sandwich before the start of the traditional meal that includes a salad, matzo ball soup, green beans, lamb and sliced potatoes.
“Passover began in Exodus, and it was a very significant time because it’s when the most dynamic of the plagues was fulfilled, which was the death of the first-born children,” Johnson said. “After the 10 plagues, which we demonstrated here, were passed, it was probably the only time in history where God came into humanity and presented himself so miraculously and helped save these people from their oppression.”
Aside from the meal, the Seder is also a time for the group to sing traditional Jewish songs and participate in Maggid, which is recounting the story of the Exodus as well as reciting the 10 plagues, as a reminder that God does not tolerate sinful behavior.
Johnson said it is imperative to continue these customs to keep the Jewish faith alive.
“This is hugely important, and that’s actually why we have a community Seder,” Johnson said. “It might not be on the exact night that Passover would have been, but we want to invite the community, because once it’s out of sight and out of mind, we forget it. … Once we forget together, we forget there’s God, and it just gets lower down the line of our priorities and it becomes nothing.”
One of the main focuses during the middle of the Seder meal is the children in attendance.
As part of tradition, the rabbi takes a piece of a matza cracker known as the afikomen, or that which comes after, and tucks it into a piece of cloth and hides it somewhere in the room for a young child to find after finishing their meal. The child who finds it is rewarded with a special prize.
When the final glass of wine has been finished to signify praise for God, the Seder is completed and the afikomen is split for all in attendance to enjoy as they say together “L’shanah, habaha bi Y’rushalaiyim,” which means a new year in Jerusalem.
“For the generation that is coming up, it’s even more significant to keep these customs alive because every generation down the line is more responsible to the one after them,” Johnson said. “We have to make sure they understand not just their knowledge, but who they are and what they are and why they are here. And faith continues to proceed them and go after them, because once it’s dead, it’s dead.”