BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Judy Abrams, left, returns to her hometown, Natchez, each year to reconnect with her sister Elise Rushing and the Jewish community with whom she grew up. Abrams helps with the Temple B’Nai Israel Seder Supper.
BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Judy Abrams, left, returns to her hometown, Natchez, each year to reconnect with her sister Elise Rushing and the Jewish community with whom she grew up. Abrams helps with the Temple B’Nai Israel Seder Supper.

Archived Story

Seder offers chance to reconnect

Published 12:04am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Judy Abrams’ annual voyage to Natchez from California serves as a time for the Natchez native to reconnect with her hometown and celebrate an important Jewish tradition with her sister, Elise Rushing.

For the past five years, Abrams has traveled to Natchez during Passover to help Rushing prepare meals for the Passover Seder Supper hosted at Temple B’Nai Israel.

During her two-week stay from Tarzana, Calif., Abrams ventures around the town she once called home, including the steps of the Temple, where many fond memories were created.

“This Temple is where I grew up and learned how to play ‘Mother May I’ and ‘Simon Says,’” Abrams said. “There’s so much history here for me, but part of it is also coming back to be with family for an important Jewish holiday.

“I only have one sister, and it’s nice to be with her and my brother-in-law during this holiday that means so much to us.”

Above are examples of the plates that the temple uses during the annual Passover event.
Above are examples of the plates that the temple uses during the annual Passover event.

The Seder is the feast starting the Passover, when Jewish people celebrate liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Passover is normally observed by the Jewish religion for eight days. This year, it takes place between sundown Monday and April 22.

The holiday and supper preparation, Rushing said, is especially important to the Jewish congregation in Natchez that’s been dwindling for years.

“There was a time when the congregation was large enough that there were lots of women to help in the kitchen and prepare the meals,” Rushing said. “It reached a point where there were not other people in the congregation to prepare the meals.”

Rushing took on preparing the majority of the food for the supper in hopes of keeping an important Jewish tradition alive.

“Our congregation is so small, it’s like a family, and this meal is something that brings everyone together,” Rushing said. “The supper is usually held in a family’s home, but we do this at the Temple because our congregation is so small and it helps remind us where we came from.

“If we don’t stick together, there won’t be anybody here.”

The meal preparation is something Rushing begins weeks in advance, but she leaves various work for the week before the supper when Abrams typically arrives.

“She puts me to work,” Abrams said, smiling. “I do whatever she asks me to.”

The highlight of Passover is the Seder, which is a 15-step, family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.

Apart from the meal that’s served buffet style at the Temple, each individual also receives a traditional Seder plate containing various symbolic items including: shank bone, egg, bitter herbs, vegetable, a sweet paste haroset and hazeret, which is another bitter herb.

Each item allows the congregation to relive and experience the freedom the Jewish people gained.

The vegetable, for example, is dipped into salt water — which is meant to symbolize the tears of the Israelite slaves — during the Seder before being eaten.

Certain items on the plate are eaten throughout the Seder service, Rushing said, and then the full buffet is brought out.

Items on the buffet include brisket, potatoes, salad and the traditional matzo ball soup.

To commemorate the unleavened bread the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, no leavened grain — wheat, barley, rye or oats — can be used in the food served at the Seder supper.

“We’re a reformed congregation, so we don’t have anyone here that’s kosher, but we do try to keep kosher this time of year,” Rushing said. “It can be quite the challenge getting all the supplies.”

Rabbi Marshall Klaven and the congregation will celebrate the Passover Seder Supper at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Temple. A $25 donation is requested to cover the cost of the meal.

The supper, Rushing said, isn’t meant for only those of the Jewish faith.

“The Passover Seder is now celebrated in a lot of different churches, so I think you have a lot of people in the Christian faith interested in it,” Rushing said. “The Natchez community has always been open minded and understanding, and this is a great way of filling up the Temple with people who care about or want to know more about Judaism.”

For more information or to make a reservation, call 601-442-6003 or 601-442-2744.