With Passover beginning on Shabbat, congregations spring into action

In addition to the normal preparations for Passover, this year Rabbi Ari Cartun finds himself attending to publicity. Cartun’s goal is to alert members at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto that the congregational seder will be held the first night, Friday, April 6, instead of the second night.

“A lot of people like to come to the synagogue for a seder on the second night, so I’ve been doing publicity to remind people that this year, it will not be like it always was,” Cartun said.

Why the change?

This year, the first night of Passover falls on a Friday. In response, some congregations have opted to hold a community seder the first night. Some are holding seders both the first and second nights. And some have canceled services on Friday. (Check with your congregation, as this article is not a definitive guide.)

For Cartun, the decision was based partly on financial considerations. “We have a kosher seder, and if you cook it on the Sabbath, then it’s not kosher,” he said. “To serve it on the second night, you would have to cook it ahead of time and preserve it. That means it would be more expensive, and also not taste as good. So we are skipping the service and holding three staggered seders, all on the first night.”

Congregation Chevra Thilim in San Francisco also will hold a seder the first night, after the service. “We always have a service on Friday, but we are unique in the Bay Area in that we also always have a seder the first night,” Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi said. “We have many people who are not sure how to do a seder or have no other place to go, and we are their family.”

Zarchi is especially pleased that the first night of Passover occurs on Shabbat this year. “It’s a special treat, because the prayers and themes overlap and the two have much in common,” Zarchi said. There are “some things to watch out for,” he added.

Rabbi Ari Cartun

“You have to light the candles 18 minutes before sunset, and all the seder preparations must be complete before sunset.”

Changes in perspective, as well as some rituals, are in order, according to Rabbi Gedalia Potash at Chabad of Noe Valley. “The biggest difference when the first night of Passover is on Shabbat is a spiritual energy, one that empowers us in different ways,” he said. “Passover and Shabbat represent the same theme –– freedom –– but in the calendar, the two come from different places.”

Shabbat, Potash explained, is the seventh day of the solar cycle, and Passover is based on the lunar cycle. “Both cycles play important roles in Jewish ideas and teaching, because the solar cycle is consistent and the lunar cycle includes waxing and waning,” he said. “Our relationship with God, our relationship with Judaism –– it’s all there in the cycles, reflecting the flow of those relationships.”

Rabbi Gedalia Potash at Chabad of Noe Valley, with his son Yaakov, greets early arrivals at a Passover seder last year. photo/courtesy of katy raddatz

Potash added that Chabad of Noe Valley will hold seders on the first and second nights. On Friday, the service before the seder will begin earlier than usual. Chabad of San Francisco also will hold a first-night seder, as will Chabad of Oakland and Piedmont, Chabad Contra Costa, Chabad Napa Valley and Chabad of the Tri Valley.

Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco is sticking with a second-night seder, and has canceled services on Friday night. “The first night of Passover is meant to be a holiday with family,” Rabbi Ryan Bauer said. The congregation has a program that matches individuals with families planning first-night seders.

A similar program is in place at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where Rabbi Janet Marder has canceled the service on Friday night. “This year we’re focusing on making sure that all our members have a seder to attend on the first night of Pesach,” she said. “We have a seder-matching program, run by volunteers, which recruits members who are willing to host others at their table.”

No service will be held Friday at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton. “It’s very unusual to cancel services, and we had a lot of discussion about it,” Rabbi David Katz said. “Though we are not having a service on Friday night, what we are doing Saturday morning is a major service –– the festival service for the holiday of Passover. We’ll have a luncheon afterward. It just makes the most sense.”

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.