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JCF Blog

An Unusual Seder

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 10/16/2017

A new play opens at the Hartford Stage this week entitled “Seder.” Written by Brooklynite Sarah Gancher, the play is a dark, thought-provoking story of a family in Hungary that gathers to celebrate its first Seder after the fall of communism. 

It is a painful story about a divided family and the consequences of our moral choices, revealing shocking family secrets. But the characters in “Seder” are also acting out the very real life experiences of Eastern European Jews who, until the fall of communism, were forbidden from observing their faith and who lived under a regime that sought to control not only their actions but their very thoughts. The very real risk of arrest and execution for thinking or acting differently led to terrible choices between saving oneself and family or someone else.

One might think based on this description of the play that the Seder is simply a plot device – a venue for the story to unfold. The Seder’s central role is not a coincidence. As it has for untold generations of Jews, this Seder is not only a traditional rite, but also a living reflection on modern circumstances. 

The Passover Seder has always served as a venue for discussing not only our people’s freedom after the Exodus, but also modern forms of slavery. For example, slavery to drug or alcohol addiction; slavery to guilt or self-doubt; slavery to the devastation of poverty; or perhaps most compelling in the context of our world today, slavery to hate - racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. In Gancher’s play, the characters are slaves to their past, to their guilt and anger, to their personal demons and their choices. 

Despite the story’s darkness, the Seder provides a powerful counterpoint of hope and belief in what is possible when we are freed from our personal bondage.

The play reminds us that the themes of our oldest Jewish rituals have powerful and personal meanings for each of us. Perhaps just as profoundly, the themes of Passover and its focus on release from bondage are not just for the Jewish people; they are universal. 

The arts have a tremendous ability to hold a mirror up to the world in which we live.  Given how riven our society seems to be with hateful ideologies, Gancher’s argument that the lessons of our Passover Seder can help free us from the bondage of hate is particularly relevant. Although it is not the season for Passover, perhaps this “Seder” can remind not only the Jewish community, but the broader community, that there is always a way back from hate. But the first step is to free ourselves from bondage to our own prejudices, mistakes and doubts.  

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