The Peretz Community Seder is one of our best-attended events of the Jewish year. Each year, about 150 people gather to share readings from our secular Haggadah, a Holocaust memorial service, traditional or vegetarian Passover meal, hiding the afikomen for the children to find and the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir’s Pesach repertoire.
About Pesach (from How to talk Jewish to your kids: A resource guide for secular progressive families, by Danny Bakan, PhD):
Historically, the ancient Hebrews celebrated two holidays, which many scholars think were combined together into our modern Passover. One, a spring fertility ritual, celebrated the firstborn of the new flock with a sacrificial lamb which had to be eaten in one night with bitter herbs and flatbread. A second holiday may have been a gathering together of the tribes to celebrate new conversions to Judaism, likely with mass circumcision of all males (including adults!)
Today, Passover is celebrated at home with a ritual meal called the “seder.” Contained within the seder are stories of liberation, community, humanistic values, standing up to oppression, and extending our own freedom to bring freedom to all. The seder is full of stories, songs, foods and rituals, all of which represent these deeper meanings. The Passover haggadah, which is the book that is used to lead the seder, is full of secret Kabbalistic symbols and hidden meanings. Many new and progressive reinterpretations of the haggadah have been written. There are many excellent online resources to help secular humanist Jewish families make the most of this important holiday—including the Peretz Centre haggadah (www.peretz-centre.org/rituals).
The traditional seder is a time when families and extended communities come together to recount the story of the exodus, eat and explain the ritual foods and share a festive meal. Teaching children the story of the escape from slavery is considered by religious Jews to be a mitzvah—a holy obligation—and by secular humanist Jews an important way of teaching children their cultural past, and their place in the long line that stretches back to Abraham and Sarah and into the future. Therefore, the seder tends to be child-centred, with special moments for the children such as The Four Questions, the search for the broken matzah known as the Afikoman, songs, stories and laughter, all of which make the seder a dynamic event.