The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 15, 2014

Passover meal provides lesson on Jewish history, culture

JOHNSTOWN — Around 120 people joined at sundown Monday at Beth Sholom Congregation in Westmont for Passover seder meal.

As the synagogue has opened the meal to community members of all faiths for more than 10 years, Jews made up the minority, according to Rabbi Irvin Brandwein.

The welcoming gesture is part of the Passover tradition, Brandwein said.

“The vast majority of people here at this dinner are not Jewish,” he said. “We maybe have 15 or 20 Jewish people but we have 120 people here.”

He said the cross-faith dinner is a time for others to learn Jewish history and culture. Brandwein said he regularly fields questions about his faith.

“They’re just questions about what Christianity and Judaism have in common, what we share, how the traditions have shaped our religion and other religions,” he said. “It is sharing with other faiths. That’s a key to Passover is to welcome in people of any and all faiths – or no faith – and engage them in the discussions and the songs and the foods and the explanations.”

“Seder” translates to “order.” Dining on simple dishes that evoke the Exodus-era bondage of the Jewish people – and consuming the symbolism attached to each – keeps the tradition and culture alive in the minds of the faithful.

For Louise Abrams, of Westmont, Passover means family.

“It’s usually a time when family gather from all over – wherever,” she said. “It’s a really important time to pass on the traditions and the story of Passover. And that’s part of the tradition of Passover is telling your children the whole history and passing on the traditions and the culture.”

These tenets manifest in the Abrams family. Louise, who came from a Jewish family from Darlington, England, and her husband, James, have practiced two sets of faith in their household.

For James, Passover means hospitality.

“My family celebrated Easter,” said James, who is Jewish on his father’s side and Irish Catholic on his mother’s. “So I grew up as an Irish Catholic in New York. Our son is Jewish, but we celebrate both sets of traditions.

“I’m speaking from firsthand experience. When I first met Louise and married her, I went to her parents’ house for Passover. I appreciated the fact that they welcomed me as warmly as they did when we were first married.”

The Abrams family has broken matzo over their seder table each year since, he said. Brandwein said the unleavened bread is a reminder of the things that really matter.

“It’s simple, basic flour and water. There’s nothing else here,” he said. “(It’s) just to remind us to get back to the basics – the discipline, the simple things – that’s all we really need.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at JustinDennis.

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