Congregation Adath Jeshurun reflects on inaugural Shoah Seder in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, plans for 2025 underway

Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park hosted its first Shoah Seder on Sunday, May 5, in honor of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

The program “utilizes the methods of the Pesach Seder and combines them with the history of the Shoah to create an unforgettably powerful experience,” and “seeks to provide some real feel experience with the events leading up to the Holocaust,” organizer Beth Shapiro said.

The following reflection was written by Shapiro after the event:

Taking part in the Shoah Seder at Adath Jeshurun on Sunday, May 5, was fascinating and heartfelt. The event was purposefully staged to create discomfort. Ill at ease, we shared an experiential event. Led by Rav Shai Cherry and his Kikar cohort of teenagers, we experienced a heartbreaking afternoon meant to remind us of the terror perpetrated upon innocent civilians by the Nazi regime.

Rav Shai shared a passionate and detailed timeline of events leading to the world’s most calculated theft of life and culture. We say, “Never Again,” while genocides against humanity have been repeated numerous times since the 1940s. This event was “powerful and awful,” “a bit frightening,” and “deeply moving,” said congregants. Right from the beginning, as congregants came into the synagogue, they were made to wait. While this Shoah seder was unsettling, it could only scratch the surface of what actually took place during the Holocaust. Rav Shai and his class of Kikar students led us through a journey of pain, destruction, and death. “Never again” was echoed by Ronnie Breslow, a vibrant and outspoken survivor. She spoke with us about her personal experiences and the loss of property, safety, and citizenship that befell her family.   

Without giving away the details of this experiential learning program, the Shoah Seder story was told with compassion, anger, fear, and some intensely sensitive symbolic acts. It left some people asking, “How is it still possible in 2024 that hate is a political tool right here in our backyards, in our government?” “What more can we do to tell this story?” and “Why do we not learn from this hatred, from this maniacal genocide?”

Spreading truths about the Holocaust through the use of this dramatic platform can facilitate learning. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is a tool we can use to fight antisemitism, racism, and the “othering” which can make it too easy to turn a blind eye to hate and to acts of hate here and abroad. 

Shapiro noted that Adath Jeshurun plans to present the Shoah Seder program to a broader, more diverse audience in the future. Next spring, she is planning a community-wide event to which 100 teens and younger folks from around the community will be invited to participate.

“This experiential event taps the senses. The Shoah Seder starts out pushing you away and becomes a significant experience,” Shapiro said. “If we want to shed light on man’s true inhumanity to man, Holocaust education is a strong tool for education and awareness.”

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Photos: Skip Atkins via Beth Shapiro