Posts Tagged With: Israel

Haredim Trying to Increase Control Over Area Around Jerusalem’s Central Shuk

Editor’s note: the HaAretz article mentioned below says the woman in question lived in Machane Israel, not Mahane Yehuda. We are currently inquiring from HaAretz if they indeed meant Machane Israel. Machane Israel is not even remotely a Haredi neighborhood. It contains two non-orthodox yeshivas: Hebrew Union College (Progressive/Reform) and the Conservative Yeshiva and two large centers housing visiting groups for the Progressive and Masorti movements. It also contains the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), four hotels and one under development catering to business travellers and mainstream tourists. Women regularly walk through the area in pants and many HUC students rent apartments in the area.

Note posted on apartment door asking a religious (Masorti) woman to leave because she isn't modest according to the Torah.

According to a report in HaAretz, Masorti (Conservative) Jewish woman living near Mahane Yehuda, the main stall based shopping market in Jerusalem, was sent a threatening letter last week demanding she leave the neighborhood. The letter was signed “The Modesty Police” It complained that she had transgressed the Torah’s rules of modesty.

The woman says she moved into the neighborhood because she needed a place to stay after she returned from America. She did not know that the neighborhood was predominantly Haredi. She also says that she gets along well with her neighbors, and was not aware of problems. She says she wears pants but does not wear short ones.

Police have said they will step up surveillance in the area, but the woman is still afraid. A friend of hers who ignored the warning had her apartment burned down.

The area around Mahane Yehuda is culturally diverse and includes haredim, hippies, and middle class professionals attracted to an area with a lot of character and ripe for renovation projects. There are many different styles of Jewish religious life, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, progressive and traditional.

Haredim in the area have been trying to extend their control over the area. For several years the Kolben Dance Troupe had covered their rehearsal room with shades because of Haredi complaints about the women dancers. The Dance Troupe is on a main road leading out of the main Jerusalem commercial area and is in no way Haredi. It is part of a complex that includes a public library and one of Jerusalem’s major performing arts venues. However, there is a residential cluster of Haredim one to two blocks away off of the main road.

Haredim have also complained about entertainment in the Mahane Yehuda shuk. The city government has been hosting street festivals in the area for the last few years. Haredim dislike that women are included in the performances, seeing it as a violation of their understanding of Jewish modesty. They have threatened to set up their own strictly gender seggregated shuk.

Most Jews, including religious Jews, do not consider the Haredi understanding of gender segregation to be required by the Torah,  nor even later Jewish law nor identity.

Hat tip: Failed Messiah

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Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Neshama Carlebach’s Inclusive HaTikva

At the invitation of the Forward, Neshama Carlebach has recorded a new version of the first verse of HaTikva, Israel’s national anthem.

The Forward’s goal was to start a debate about how the wording of HaTikvah could be made more inclusive for Arab Israelis by setting new words to the prayerful voice of Neshama Carlebach. The lack of inclusiveness made headlines earlier this spring when an Arab Israeli Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, stood for the anthem but did not sing the words aloud.

The lyrics are a joint effort of Forward blogger Philologos and Neshama Carlebach. Philologos made suggestions for replacing several phrases that excluded non-Jewish Israelis. Carlebach added a repeat of the last two lines of HaTikva using the original words. Thus the inclusion of non-Jewish Israelis wouldn’t be at the expense of the Jewish Israeli experience.

Here are the revised lyrics. Changes are in bold with the original words following in brackets.

As long as the heart within
An Israeli [Jewish] soul still yearns
And onward, towards the East
An eye still gazes towards our country [Zion]
We have still not lost our hope
our ancient [2000 year] hope
To be a free people in the land of our fathers [our land]
in the city in which David, in which David encamped [land of Zion and Jerusalem]
To be a free people in our land
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem

For Philologos, these lyrics represent a change of heart. Back in 1998 when Israel made it to the World Cup, the anthem had also made the news. One of the Israeli team members, an Arab Israeli named Walid Badir, also stood but stayed silent. At that time Philologos had believed that there was nothing that could be done to make the words acceptable and people like Badir would just have to settle with standing and staying silent. This spring, after the Joubran story made headlines, he wrote,

I’ve changed my mind about “Hatikvah.” The successful integration of Israeli Arabs into Israeli life, on which the country’s future depends, has to have its symbolic expression, too. It’s unacceptable to have an anthem that can’t be sung by 20% of a population. Permitting it to stand mutely while others sing is no solution.

Neshama Carlebach is very aware of the sensitive nature of the song. As she explained to the Jerusalem Post,

I think it was a very controversial move, because to change the lyrics to a precious song like ‘Hatikva’ is a very big statement… It’s not about leaving the world we were in behind; it’s about opening our doors wider. I feel that if the world sees, in my own humble opinion, that Israel is not just a small exclusive group that they can’t touch, but a larger entity that’s willing to wrap our arms around the whole of humanity or even change our anthem, we’re opening our doors, and maybe the press would be better.

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Ynet Joins JPost for Jerusalem Bus Ad Fight Blooper Award

Ynet wins this month’s award for completely inappropriate pictures of women. Today, Ynet posted an update on the campaign to show the faces of modestly dressed Jerusalem women on Jerusalem bus ads. The picture accompanying the article shows the bottom half of a woman’s body (no face) and is focused on her crotch.

This is not a fight about advertisers wanting to put sexy women on buses, but rather a fight over whether serious public service advertisements including women can be displayed. The matter goes back to 2008 when Egged refused campaign advertisements that featured the face of Rachel Azaria, running for city council as head of the newly formed Yerusalmim party. They told her ‘No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old.”

The battle heated up again last fall when Egged refused to display women on posters for a public service campaign to increase organ donors. Once again the pictures showed only faces. There were no exposed shoulders or any other form of provocative dress. None the less, Egged’s advertising agency asked the National Transplant Center (ADI), to replace the advertisements with ones showing only men. The advertising agency explained that a 2007 campaign which showed an organ donor and her son had been vandalized and the bus set on fire.

In November, Yerushalmim tried to place posters of the faces of women living in Jerusalem on buses. The campaign was titled “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You”. The women were fully dressed in “regular, completely modest, unrevealing and unoffending clothes.” None the less, they were told that they would have to deposit 50,000 NIS for any damages to the buses caused by the posters.

In December, Yerushalmim and several Jerusalem residents took the matter to the Supreme Court. This most recent article describes the Supreme Court’s request to the government to clarify two questions:

  • “why it [the government ] does not stipulate that licenses for operating public transportation will only be issued to companies that avoid activities that may include gender-based discrimination. “
  • “why it [the government] does not impose real sanctions on Egged when it goes against basic constitutional principles”

This is not the first time an update to this story has been posted with an inappropriate picture. At the beginning of March, the Jerusalem Post selected a picture of a woman licking a plate to accompany the article.

Jacob’s Bones asked Ynet how it chose the picture.  Ynet explained:

In this case, I assume we can both agree the photo used is that of a woman, and it very much looks like an ad. As such, it seems at least partly relevant to the story, and certainly to the story’s headline. I think that’s good enough.

Were there really no pictures that looked like a woman, looked like an ad, and showed her face? What about a breast cancer awareness ad?  Or the ADI organ donation ad featuring a woman that was rejected from Jerusalem buses?  Or one of the rejected pictures from the Yerushalmim campaign that triggered the supreme court case?

As unimaginable and as crazy as it sounds, the Haredim here aren’t complaining about sexy Jeans advertisements.  That might be understandable.

They are complaining and sometimes vandalizing buses with fully clothed women doing public service announcements.  What has women in Jerusalem upset is that even modest practical pictures of women can’t get on buses.

Haredim claim that women should not be displayed on buses because a picture of a woman is inherently sexual. Picture selections like these only serve to reinforce social attitudes that women in the media equals sex in the media.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Israel Celebrates Earth Day: North, South, East and West

On Sunday, April 22, 2012, Israel celebrated Earth Day with events from southern most Eilat to northernmost Acco, from coastal Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the edge of the West Bank, from the Negev to the Galilee.

The days events cumulated with an hour long rolling “lights out” in 23 cities across Irael, including the capital Jerusalem. The cities were divided into four groups turning off their lights in ten minute intervals at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20, and finally 8:30. The IDF also turned out the lights on all bases for one hour starting at 8:00pm. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) reported that during the half hour where all 23 cities had their lights partially or fully out, nationwide electricity usage dropped by 35%.

The hour long black out was inspired by “Earth Hour”. Earth Hour aims to build global awareness about energy conservation and green energy sources through a global “lights out” starting around 8:30PM local time around the world. The event normally happens the last Saturday of March. Shabbat observant members would find it difficult to participate because Shabbat ends just before 8PM around that time of year. In order to include both religious and non-religious environmental advocates, Israel usually reschedules its participation. Last year it marked Earth Hour on Thursday, March 24 two days before the global Earth Hour on March 26. This year it postponed Earth Hour until Earth Day.

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) gave prominent billing to the event on its home page and also dedicated several pages on its website to encourage participation.

Colonel Ronen Marley, commander of an IDF training school in the Negev, said that love of Israel’s land and its defense cannot be separated:

Those who don’t love the land, the earth, cannot protect it. When we educate our squad commanders to care for nature, the result is that they will pay attention to the environment during military operations and minimize the damage caused by these activities, and we will increase their sense of responsibility,

Continue reading

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Taiku! Israeli Masorti Movement Opens Door to Gay Rabbis

Taiku! This is the word the Talmud uses when a debate simply can’t be resolved. Rather than pick one solution the Talmud cries Taiku! Tie! Let it stand! and the parties go onto other issues. We like to think that there is one right way and if people work hard enough they will find it. In reality there were many many times when the Talmud could find no way to resolve a dispute. Forcing a solution only divides a community. Calling “Taiku!” allows the community to stay together even without exact agreement on every issue.

Two Contradictory Opinions

The Conservative movement’s handling of gay unions and ordinations is a modern day example of “Taiku!”. In 2006 the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) took up the issue of the status of homosexuality within Conservative Jewish Halachah. Given the strong feelings on all sides, there was no way to come to a single answer, so the committee accepted two contradictory rulings.

The first of these opinions ( EH 24.2006a ) , by Joel Roth, argued against gay unions and ordinations. Roth was concerned that wholesale rejection of rabbinic bans against homosexual relatinships would put the Conservative movement too far outside the bounds of the halachic community which includes orthodox Jews and not just conservative Jews. Continue reading

Categories: Building a Better Judaism, Building a Just Israel | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Eisner and the Activists: What Really Happened on Saturday at Route 90?

Within a week it had almost 600,000 hits. The video, released on YouTube a week ago, showed IDF soldier Shlomo Eisner striking a young distracted Danish man in the face with the long side of his M16 on Saturday afternoon (April 14, 2012).

After a flurry of articles including two New York Times articles (April 17, April 18), it looked like the story would die down. But on Friday B’Tselem released a new video filmed by Palestinian TV. The video shows Eisner hitting an additional 4 people, one in the back with his gun. Another person struck by Eisner was standing still in front of Eisner. In order to strike her Eisner had to take at least one pace forward and lunge.

Eisner had claimed that he was acting in self defense after having already been attacked. He said the first video had been heavily edited. It presented a distorted picture of what happened. The so-called cyclists were anarchists. For Eisner to have acted in any other way would have put lives at risk. Continue reading

Categories: Building a Just Israel, How Others See Us | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A Tale of Three Religions: a Muslim Israeli Holocaust Survivor

Leila Jabarin (nee Helen Brashatsky) with her grandchildren. credits: AFB (click picture for and additional photos).

A set of distinctly Eastern European eyes peers out from under the white hijab. Although the woman is Muslim, she was born in Auschwitz.

When Helen Brashatsky’s parents and two brothers arrived in Auschwitz in 1941, Helen’s mother was pregnant. Pregnant women were usually killed, but Helen’s mother was lucky. A Christian doctor hid Helen’s family under the floor of his house inside the Auschwitz compound. When she was born, he hid her in a pile of bath towels. During the day, Helen’s mother did the doctor’s housework and her father was the gardener. At night the parents would return to the doctors house and feed the children bread soaked in salt water. After WWII the family immigrated to Israel and settled in Ramat Gan.

Helen was six when her family came to Israel, a few months before statehood was declared. She grew up in Ramat Gan, but at 17 she fell in love with an Arab man. Much to her parents’ dismay she ran away to marry him and live in his village. Eventually after two years she and her family reconciled.

Even though she married an Arab man, she remained Jewish and did not convert to Islam. But when her children began approaching army age, she became concerned that her daughter would not be accepted in the community where she grew up if she had to serve in the army. By converting she could prevent her children from being drafted and so she did.

Helen never told her husband and children about her Holocaust story. For years she would cry alone on Holocaust memorial day, much to the confusion of her family. She says “There are no words to describe the pain that I feel. How can children eat dry bread soaked in water? If this happened to my children, I don’t know what would become of me.”

She says she was waiting for the right moment. That moment came when a man from Israeli social services showed up to ask about her past. Her oldest son, now 33, says that it answered a lot of questions “Mum used to cry on Holocaust Memorial Day watching all the ceremonies on Israeli television. We never understood why. We all used to get out of the way and leave her alone in the house…We understand her a bit more now.”

For more about Leila’s story: Holocaust survivor finds haven as Muslim in Israel , Your Middle East (AFP), April 18, 2012.

Categories: To Be a Jew | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Exclude Women from the Circus Ring? Modiin Says No

South African Modiin residents picnic in Modiin Park (Shabbat haGadol)

According to HaAretz (Hebrew version) during Chol haMoed a female volunteer was asked to leave the stage in Modiin when a Haredi women from the audience complained and asked that the circus use a male volunteer. The woman had gone backstage and told Rafi Vitis, the host of that a woman volunteer violated the sensibilities of “most” of the audience. In fact “The Shambuki Show” was being performed in Anabe Park in Modiin.

Modiin is a mixed secular and religious town, but the religious in Modiin primarily come from Progressive (Reform), Masorti (Conservative), and National Religious camps rather than Haredim. Non-haredi orthodox believe separation of men and women belong only in the synagogue and have varying opinions about hearing women sing. Non-orthodox relgious give men and women equal access in all areas of adult religious and secular life. One Modi’in religious resident told haAretz,

Instead of enjoyable time out with the family we received an alarming example of how normal it has become to take women off stage and marginalize them in the public sphere, even in a city like Modi’in where the population is not predominantly Haredi, and where Haredi politics don’t prevail,…It was striking to see such a flagrant case of exclusion of women from the public sphere. Here in Modi’in, it is unacceptable.

A Modiin official and the city council took swift action to prevent future attempts by self-styled police to segregate women. The Modiin city council told HaAretz

As soon as the incident was brought to the attention of the director of cultural activities he rushed to the scene and gave a specific order that it was unacceptable and that the show would go on as usual. Afterward we circulated specific instructions that all changes to shows at Anava Park cannot be approved by anyone other than the city council.

Avi Elbaz, city council member, told haAretz:

The incident with the acrobatic show didn’t take place in Modi’in Illit, Ramat Beit Shemesh or another Haredi city. If it doesn’t suit you to see women on stage, don’t come. It’s unbelievably rude to go to a show in a secular city and make these demands. This place is not owned by the Haredim

Avi Elbaz is also chairman of Free Modiim , a group that defends the rights of secular Israelis . Modi’in Illit is a nearby town that is predominantly Haredi. Members of the nearby Haredi town sometimes come to the park and have caused problems in the past when they’ve insisted that park events and other park visitors act according to their values.

Different spins in different languages

The Hebrew and English haAretz versions of this story have different slants. The Hebrew version, like this article, stressed the action of the city government and local officials. The English version stressed the conflict between Haredim and Modiin residents. In Hebrew the article summary in bold at the start of the article says “Modiin city hall: we gave instructions that an incident like this shouldn’t happen now or in the future”. The English version says “Modi’in residents angered by ‘unacceptable’ act. “.

This difference in coverage may have been motivated by the assumption that English readers are predominately out of country and will not care about municipal details. However, downplaying the governments quick response also leaves the mistaken impression that non-Haredi Jews are a beleagered and defensive minority in Israel. In reality, the majority of the population supports women’s presence in the public sphere and accomodation to secular lifestyles. Most of the difficulties regarding women come from non-enforcement of laws rather than the lack of laws.

Respect for whom?

The haredi woman who approached the acrobat show’s host and the hosts decision also illustrates some common theme in stories about the exclusion of women.

Often the decision to remove women is made by non-Haerdim with the intent of being respectful to Haredim. Rafi Vitis told HaAretz “I was trying to do my best to show consideration for their sensibilities and didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.” The decision of Beersheva to segregate playground at their local zoo one day during Chol haMoed Pesach had a similar goal which they described as “harmony”. However, exclusion decisions are never neutral. If there is a single event, there is no way to both include and exclude at the same time. Being sensitive to a person who believes in excluding women is going to offend women who want to be included as well as bystanders who believes women should not be excluded.

The MC’s lack of awareness that he was going to offend someone no matter what he did may be related to the way Israelis typically view religion. There is a tendency in Israeli culture to view religion as a continuum with secular antagonism at one end and Haredi extremism at the other. There is only one way to be religious and it involves becoming more and more like the Haredim. Objection to Haredi lifestyle can only reflect either a lack of religious passion or even anti-religious intolerance.

This contrasts with the more pluralistic view found in the Diaspora and in academic study of Judaism. These later perspectives see religious Judaism as something more like a tree with many interpretations branching out of a core trunk of common texts and history.

The notion of a continuum leaves little room for disagreement since relgion is viewed as additive rather than diversifying. If Haredim see exclusion of women as a positive religious goal then inclusion must represent the absense of commitment to that goal rather than a religiously motivated opposition based on a different understanding of Judaism and human dignity. The person opposing segregation must either be (a) indifferent and happy to comply (b) anti-religious (c) assimilated to a world of non-Jewish values (d) selfishly trying to go beyond her God appointed role. Most people want to think of themselves as nice people. Compliance is the only option that doesn’t have some sort of negative connotation.

A second common theme is the belief that “most” people agree with the Haredim. This was the argument given by the Haredi woman who approached the acrobat show’s host. She believed her objections to the female volunteer were shared by “most” of the audience.

The HaAretz article doesn’t give any attendence numbers, but there have been many incidents where Haredi sources have grossly overestimated their numbers or general agreement with their valeus. In 2009, Hiddush did a study of Israeli attitudes towards segregated buses. They found that 50% of the general public did not want to ride a segregated bus. Haredi men and women had put the estimate at less than 30%. In February, when the Tel Aviv city council decided to work towards making buses available on Shabbat, local rabbis told the press that 80% of Tel Aviv was against it. Tel Aviv is a predominantly secular city. Furthermore several national studies show that 60% or more of the country is in fact in favor of making public buses available on Shabbat.

This tendency to overestimate may be related to the psychological process of salience . We tend to overweight something that attracts our attention. There is little doubt that the distinctive dress of Haredim can dominate one’s perception of a space even when there are not many present. Additionally, many Haredim live in a self contained world so they may simply be unaware of the diversity of viewpoints outside of their communities.

Categories: Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: | Leave a comment

Beersheva Zoo Segregates Visitors by Gender, Requires “Modest” Dress

Turtle at Negev Zoo

Ynet reports that when Avigail Kanterovich and her family showed up at the Negev Zoo in Bersheva, they couldn’t get in. Even national religious visitors couldn’t get in.

The ticket sellers told them that the zoo was closed to non-Haredi visitors. The zoo management says that this was a special event arranged for the Haredi public, however no prior announcements had been made to the general public and there were no signs in place at the zoo when the family arrived Later in the day the zoo affixed a sign at the entrance announcing the special visiting requirements.

After the family confronted the zoo management, the zoo agreed to let them and other non-Haredi visitors in. However, even children’s activities at the zoo were segregated by gender. All visitors were required to dress to a Haredi standard of modesty as well or they could not be admitted.

The Beersheva municiplity said that this event was an example of seculars and religious living in harmony.

According to Wikipedia the Negev Zoo receives funding from the city of Beersheva, the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Housing and Construction Minister of Israel and private contributors.

Attempts to segregate public spaces by gender have failed when challenged in the Israeli Supreme court. In September, 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the right to segregate city streets by gender. In June, 2011 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected public enforcement of gender segregated buses.

Nonetheless municipal governments from time to time cooperate with Haredim in sponsoring publicly funded gender segregated events in public spaces. Last Hanukkah, Petach Tikva enforced gender segregated seating at municipal Hanukkah shows.

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Gender Segregation | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Seders around the Jewish World

Beijing at night

On the first night of Passover as the sun moves around the world Jews from all countries begin one after another to celebrate the seder. The particular way each family and group of friends celebrates differs from table to table, time zone to time zone. Yet we all tell the same story on the same night.

Beijing

In Tablet magazine Dan Levin talks about his seder in China. He writes

For most of the year, our Jewishness hovers in the background; our primary identity here is “foreigner.” But Passover forces us to confront our shared religious heritage—and how it resonates in a Chinese context. The Haggadah features tales of villains and heroes, tyranny and dissent, and when we distill the Seder’s morality play through the dark realities of China, it reads as subversive political commentary. After all, we are celebrating freedom in a country that is not free.

Katmandu

An Israeli chef and his crew prepared 900 chickens, tubs full of salad, and over a 1000 boiled eggs with the electricity going on and off. Over 1,100 people came from all over Nepal to attend the seder. Each year about 10,000 Israelis visit Nepal. The seder in Katmandu is one of three seders in Nepal.  For more, see 1,100 Pounds of Matzah in the Himalaya Mountains .

Israel

Last year seder Gilead Shalit’s family marked the seder in the tent the family had erected outside of the prime minister’s house. This year for the first time in six years the family is celebrating Passover with Gilead Shalit in their own home.

Soldiers from the HaRuv brigade arrived expecting a festive seder meal. Instead they got cold matzah and salami. IDF kitchens must serve kosher food. The rabbi in charge of supervising the kitchen insisted that the planned meal be thrown out because it was improperly heated.

Several Russian Jewish oligarchs celebrated an unremarkable seder in a Jerusalem hotel this year, but the way they prepapred for the seder was anything but usual. The week before the seder they traveled 200 kilometer through the Aravah desert northward to Jerusalem accompanied by camels without their usual modern conveniences . The trip organizer told the Moscow Times that the journey presented “a serious spiritual and physical challenge to the particpants.”

Gilad Shalit’s family have left their tents, but the residents of Machpelach house in Hebron have just set up theirs. They were evicted the week before Passover by the IDF. The residents claim that they had bought the property fair and square and had the right to live in the house. The IDF says that property has been set aside for military use and they can’t be there. Their claims will be reviewed in the coming months. In the meantime as a protest they have set up a tent nearby and held their seder in the tent.

Four years ago Chef Alon Goren of the El Barrio restaurant in Tel Aviv realized that many of his staff were foreign workers who had no place to go for seder night. He invited them to the restaurant for a small seder. The next year he invited workers from restaurants run by friends. The third year the number of people coming to the seder grew so large that he could no longer hold it in his restaurant. He moved it to a villa owned by a high ranking police officer and friend of his. This year the seder was held in a Flamenco studio in south Tel Aviv. Describing the children at his seders Goren said “It’s just amazing. The kids who come speak Hebrew fluently. They’re Israelis! Their parents are from another world, but these youngsters are so Israeli. They know the songs, and they have such a good time,”.

Egypt

In Egypt was the seder that wasn’t. Every year since the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the Israeli embassy in Cairo has held a seder. This year the seder was canceled due to deteriorating relations with Egypt. Because of problems protecting staff, embassy personnel have been returning home to Israel each weekend . Because the seder fell on Shabbat this year, the ambassor was in Israel with his family rather than in Cairo.

Hungary

Ruth Ellen Gruber from Budapest writes:

At Pesach, I made a “seder crawl” that took me to the Bet Orim seder and two others on the first night and one additional seder on the second. I had been invited to all of them, and seder hopping was how I dealt with the dilemma of having to make a choice about which to attend. Each was a big communal affair for dozens of people, organized by one of Budapest’s plethora of different Jewish groups and congregations. They all took place in and around the city’s downtown old Jewish quarter, in venues ranging from a modern JCC auditorium to the formal dining room of a popular restaurant to a funky basement youth cafe.

United Kingdom

Angie Jacobs writes in the Times of Israel about the prepackaged McSeder plate in her local supermarket and the challenges she and her sister had with creating a seder plate that was acceptable to the vegetarians in the family.

USA, East Coast

At the Garden, spending Passover with Springsteen : Long Island resident Warren Rosen didn’t want to miss Bruce Springsteen’s opening concert at Madison Square Garden in lower Manhatten. Since there was no way to get from his Seder Table in Massapequa Park, to the Garden, Rosen decided he’d bring the Seder to Springsteen. He rented a room in a restaurant across the street from Madison Square Garden; printed up special Haggadot with Bruce Springsteen on the cover; and invited his friends. They began the seder with “Matzah Ball”, a song written by his wife and set to the tune of Springsteen’s song Wrecking Ball. When the seder was over, everyone crossed the street and went to the Springsteen concert.

College student Alan Meskin writes in the Forward about his family’s efforts to maintain their Russian roots duing the seder. Obviously there are Russian dishes at the meal, but more than that the seder has special meaning for Russian immigrants to the USA. He writes:

To Russian immigrants especially, the holiday is a moment when they can think about the recent attainment of independence from the former Soviet Union and how they were let go after years of oppression and hatred.

USA, Moab Desert, Utah

 

Several families gathered in the Moab desert in Utah for a day long pre-seder and seder program. In memory of the Jews having to walk their way out of Egypt, they began their pre-seder celebrations with a hike to the Corona Arch, a giant natural made stone arch, an hour long hike from the nearest road. At the arch they read the story of the Exodos from the Torah. After the reading, following Miriam’s example, women danced with tamborines. The group returned to their camp site to complete the evening with a traditional seder. The annual desert seder is lead by Reform rabbi, Jamie Korngold. Next year, she will leave leadership to someone else. Korngold plans to be in Jerusalem.

 

USA, West Coast

In the Los Angeles Jewish Journal a morrocan Jewish father describes how Arabic and his Morrocan heritage shaped his understanding of the seder and the world around him.

Growing up in a French-speaking Sephardic-Moroccan home in Los Angeles, my sisters and I were never taught that Arabic was the “language of the enemy.” That is, unless we considered our parents “the enemy” — they spoke it between themselves when they didn’t want us to understand what was being said. I have vivid memories of Judeo-Arabic being spoken in my home. … Throughout my upbringing, the first chant at the Passover seder that really made it feel like Pesach for all of us around the table sounded like this …. Although my parents are no longer alive, my family continues our Judeo-Arabic chanting at the seder. These chants continue to tell the story of Pesach — my Moroccan ancestors’ Pesach — to my children, in the original language of their ancestors.

For Gary Smith’s vegan family the shank bone was only the beginning of their problems with the traditional seder. None the less they found a way to adapt the seder to integrate both their connection to Judaism and their commitments as vegans. He writes in the Jewish Journal about their “veder” or a vegan seder:

Our veder is really not much different than most others except that as vegans and animal rights activists, we see animals as fellow innocent victims. We decide to include and remember the 10 billion animals who are killed for food each year in the United States, the hundreds of millions in vivisection laboratories, the animals enslaved in zoos, circuses, racetracks and water parks for human entertainment, and the millions killed for fur, leather, wool and silk. Although being vegan is still outside the mainstream, it is in no way a rejection of the values we grew up with. In fact, the very teachings of Judaism encourage us to question authority, protect those who are most vulnerable, and take action against oppression and injustice — qualities that are common, if not necessary, to vegans and animal activists.

Hawaii

And finally we reach Hawaii where blogger Lorraine Gershun writes about her family’s second night seder:

My husband and I set the table this afternoon for our second night Seder. When we finished I realized that we were both wearing our bathing suits. He was still in his board shorts from his morning surf session and I had just returned from the neighborhood pool after swimming some laps. “Now that is being Jewish in Hawaii I thought.”

Update: 2012-04-15, added stories about seder in Katmandu, Nepal and Moab Desert, USA.

Several families gathered in the Moab desert in Utah for a day long pre-seder and seder program. In memory of the Jews having to walk their way out of Egypt, they began their pre-seder celebrations with a hike to the Corona Arch, a giant natural made stone arch, an hour long hike from the nearest road. At the arch they read the story of the Exodos from the Torah. After the reading, following Miriam’s example, women danced with tamborines. The group returned to their camp site to complete the evening with a traditional seder. The annual desert seder is lead by Reform rabbi, Jamie Korngold. Next year, she will leave leadership to someone else. Korngold plans to be in Jerusalem.

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