Jewish feast celebrates freedom
Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 18, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 18, 2014 at 11:19 p.m.
"We now begin our Seder," Rabbi Anna Beroll announced, smiling.
She patted a bobby-pinned yarmulke to her head, checking to make sure it was in place, then signaled to members of Temple B'nai Israel to pick up the Passover Haggadah books and begin the ritual feast.
"This is such an exciting day," Beroll said, explaining the significance of the annual Passover Seder. "One of most important parts is the Maggid. It's a retelling of the story of Exodus, and it's told in a question-and-answer format to make it more interactive."
Passover is celebrated by Jewish families around the globe for eight days, or fewer for some Reformists, with a traditional Seder meal marking the beginning of the holiday.
Because Beroll lives in Austin and needs to drive to Victoria to lead the meal, the temple's Jewish families held the Seder on Friday, a few days into Passover.
The temple's rear library on Main Street transformed into a white-tablecloth dining room, carafes of sweet vintage Manischewitz wine sat atop each of the six tables; the aroma of matzah ball soup filled the space.
But before the crowd could feast on the buffet-style kosher fare, they first had to get through the early parts of the meal, which traditionally includes about 15 parts of prayer and symbolic noshing.
The ordered feast includes Hebrew blessings, sung prayers, wine and grape juice drinking, breaking matzah bread and eating food from the Seder plate display - parsley, saltwater, roasted eggs, radish and sweet apple and nuts.
A lamb or goat shankbone is also placed on the Seder plate, representing the lamb sacrifice offered in the Temple of Jerusalem, but it is not consumed, Beroll said.
Susan Monty Branfman, one of the Seder's organizers, said Passover is a celebratory occasion for Jewish people. But it's also a time to remember the Exodus story of God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and the centuries following of maltreatment and holocaust.
"It's a story we've been telling for 3,000 years," Branfman said, mentioning feelings of thankfulness for the freedom to worship openly in Victoria. "There are still (Jewish) people who face persecution in many parts of the world."
Though Victoria's area Jewish families are decreasing in number, Branfman said she's thankful for the closeness she experiences with all members of the temple.
"We're a small congregation. And this is the time to embrace our rich heritage and celebrate our freedom," Branfman said. "I'm proud to live in America and be Jewish."