Many Jews this week are commemorating the liberation of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago during epic Passover services and dinners, known as Seders.
However, an increasing number of Jews are skipping out on this ritual altogether, Steve Lipman of The Jewish Week writes. Their absence reflects an ongoing decline in Passover Seder attendance, a trend the Jewish community is struggling to reverse.
Seder attendance has dropped from around 90% of Jews in the 1990s to between 60% and 70% today, according to several surveys cited by The Jewish Week.
There are a few explanations for this arguably troubling trend.
For one thing, Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews has been steadily increasing in recent decades, Shmuel Rosner has pointed out in The Jewish Journal. A non-Jewish spouse may not be inclined to spend hours listening to the Jewish text called the Haggadah that tells the story of Passover in a fashion some may find uninspiring. Only 54% of intermarried couples surveyed by Pew in 2013 attended a Seder, compared to 91% of couples who are both Jewish, Rosner writes.
For some Jews, attendance at Passover Seders dies out with the passing of older generations who traditionally lead the services. Philip Mandel, 60, told The Jewish Week he doesn’t make any Seder plans for Passover because the “full-blown, takes forever, Orthodox seder” led by his grandfather had no meaning for him.
While I don’t consider myself very religious, I attend two Seders every Passover. My grandfather leads both Seders, the first with my large extended family and the second with just my immediate family. He excels at this because he knows when it’s important to diverge from the Hagaddah readings in order to speed up the lengthy service, satisfying everyone’s impatience to get to the part where we eat dinner. He’ll tell intriguing Passover stories in his own words, rather than by reading long, boring passages straight out of the Haggadah book.
My family members and I often wonder who will lead the Seder when my grandfather is no longer around. Will we lose interest in this ritual?
In one portion of the Haggadah, four theoretical sons — one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who doesn’t know enough to ask a question — learn about Passover. Recently, my grandfather told me there is a fifth son whom I have never heard of — the son who doesn’t come to the Seder.
Tamar Frydman recently wrote about this fifth son in a separate piece in The Jewish Week. “It should be a communal goal to get all ‘fifth sons’ and daughters back at the table,” she writes. “It shouldn’t matter how you observe, where you are on the spectrum of connection, how learned, or if you are new to Judaism. We are all one people and we should create a community in which everyone feels comfortable and invited.”
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