A sampling of seders and Passover dinners around the Bay Area

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On April 14, Bay Area Jews will gather round the table for the first night of Passover. They can do it the old-fashioned way, with a Maxwell House haggadah, Manischewitz wine and Uncle Marty dropping matzah crumbs on the floor.

Or they can do it the nontraditional way.

For Passover 2014, the Bay Area will play host to several alternative public seders, ranging from the hip to the meaningful, from the humanist to the activist. Fortunately, all of them involve copious amounts of wine.


Downtown Seder

Table for the Downtown Seder, which makes its San Francisco debut this year

Held for 13 years in New York, the Downtown Seder will make its West Coast debut this year. The brainchild of restaurateur-winemaker Michael Dorf of New York’s City Winery, the event stages the traditional steps of the seder as interpreted by writers, comedians, political figures and artists.

“It says in the haggadah you’re supposed to tell the [Exodus] story in a language you understand,” Dorf says. “I took that and said, ‘Maybe I should be interpreting the story in the language of the arts.’ That offers a way to interpret various parts of the haggadah in a fresh new way. It leaves a great open canvas, and almost anything goes.”

Guest stars include Israeli singer David Broza, singer-songwriters Country Joe McDonald and Alison Faith Levy, comedian Lisa Geduldig, sex educator and former porn star Annie Sprinkle and juggler Sara Felder. Via video, “The Daily Show” comedian Lewis Black will serve up a rant on the Ten Plagues.

One divergence from tradition: This seder won’t occur during Passover. The Downtown Seder will take place on Wednesday, April 9 at the JCC of San Francisco. Tickets ($85-$140) are available by calling (415) 292-1233 or visiting www.jccsf.org. The event will include a kosher vegetarian meal, plus kosher wine poured by the winemakers themselves, Jeff Morgan (Covenant) and Ernie Weir (Hagafen).

Attendees will follow along in a custom-made haggadah, which includes some seder staples. But in one twist, no one will go hungry waiting for the meal. “We go against the grain,” Dorf says. “We start serving early — all kinds of noshes for people to eat.”


Broadway Sing-Along Seder

Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in Berkeley is the site of the Broadway Seder Sing-and-Eat-a-Long at 7 p.m. April 19. With composer Daniel Savio at the piano, guests will dine on a Saul’s Passover meal while singing Broadway show tunes with “new lyrics that tell the tale of old.”

Tickets are $52 online and $60 at the door, or $21 and $26 for children under 12. For more information, visit www.saulsdeli.com or call (510) 848-3354.


Modern Exodus Seder

The Humanistic Modern Exodus seder will be taking place at 6 p.m. April 19 at the Albany Community Center. Organized by Kol Hadash, this seder will use a haggadah that makes no mention of God.

Instead, the seder will celebrate the exodus of Jews out of anti-Semitic Europe last century as much as it does the biblical Exodus from Egypt.

“We honor [the Exodus story] because it’s been celebrated through the ages by Jews. But Passover is really about the human struggle for freedom,” says Kol Hadash member Marilyn Boxer. “We join our struggle with that of many peoples and groups past and present.”

The lay-led service ($15-$45) and meal is open to the public, but pre-registration is required. For information, call (510) 982-1455 or visit www.kolhadash.org.


Multicultural Freedom Seder

The 18th annual San Francisco Multicultural Passover Freedom Seder is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the JCC of San Francisco. The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 10 at the JCCSF.

In addition to celebrating Jewish history, this event in the past has paid honor to other communities, such as black, LGBTQ and Asian American. The guest list routinely includes many non-Jews, including members of various minority communities and local politicians.

JCRC program associate Joe Goldman helped organize this year’s event, which will honor San Francisco for providing safe harbor for many oppressed groups over the last 150 years. He calls the city “our other promised land.”

Tickets are $15 for children and $40 for adults. For information, call (415) 292-1233 or visit www.jccsf.org.


Out of Order Seder

The fifth annual Out-of-Order Seder is  a 21-and-over nosh-and-dance party with live entertainment held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

“It’s Passover but not the seder itself,” says David Saxe, co-chair of the event and a museum supporter. “It’s Passover with a different take. We bring in non-Jews, too, who want to see what Passover is and what the museum is.”

Attendees may peruse the exhibits — including “Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah” — nosh on food from Wise Sons Deli, drink cocktails and enjoy entertainment including DJ Dangerous Alien, live performance art and more.

The cost is $75 and the event will run from 9 p.m. until midnight. For more information, call (415) 655-7881 or visit www.thecjm.org.


Passover Justice Experience

Hazon, American Jewish World Service, the New Israel Fund, Bend the Arc, the Kitchen and Congregation Beth Shalom are joining forces to host the Passover Justice Experience from 6 to 9:30 p.m. April 21 at Beth Shalom in San Francisco.

Organizers describe the event as “not quite a seder, not quite a party,” but rather an evening of “community, good food, interesting conversation and learning.” The event kicks off with an “interactive seder plate experience” at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 7 p.m.

Dinner and drinks are $36 per person. For more information, call (415) 397-7020 or visit www.hazon.org/calendar/passover-justice-experience.


Luxury Seder

Chabad of San Francisco is hosting an event it is calling the Luxury Passover Seder at the Concordia Club, and “being that the building is up for sale, this might be the last seder there,” notes Rabbi Moshe Langer.

The event will be held at the stately Concordia-Argonaut Club on Van Ness Avenue. The organization, which traces its roots to an 1864 founding as a Jewish men’s club, has put its building up for sale.

The seder is set for 7 p.m. April 14. Suggested donation is $54 per adult, $36 per child. For more information, call (415) 668-6178 or visit www.chabadsf.org.


Passover Without Miracles Seder

In Livermore, Tri-Valley Cultural Jews will be holding a community potluck seder led by Rabbi Judith Seid. It will feature a secular haggadah, stories of other communities’ struggles for freedom and self-determination — and a tomato on the seder plate!

Representing the foods harvested by migrant workers, the tomato is to remain uneaten. “We don’t eat the fruit of exploited labor,” Seid explains. “We will wait to eat the tomato until the day that all workers in our land are welcome, free and safe.”

The seder will run from 5 to 7 p.m. April 19 at Bothwell Center in Livermore, and there is a requested donation of $15 for nonmembers. Reservations are required. For information, call (510) 888-1404, email [email protected] or visit www.tinyurl.com/cultural-seder.


For more public seders, see page 35. Additional listings are online at www.bayjews.org (keyword search “seder”). Also visit www.jfed.org/passover/category/find-a-seder (East Bay), www.jewishfed.org/event (S.F., North Bay and Peninsula) or www.jvalley.org/events/list (South Bay).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.