Preparations are under way at Paris’s Congregation Juive Libèrale for a Seder with special significance. This week, 300 members and friends will gather for the first Passover feast in the new spiritual home that the Reform congregation dedicated last May.
“The Seder brings together all that is important about the Jewish faith and traditions, reminding us of our sacred freedom to worship,” said CJL’s rabbi, Pauline Bébé, France’s first female rabbi. The Seder will be conducted in French, Hebrew, Yiddish, German and English.
When the congregation would meet at its original, much smaller location in northern Paris, Seders were held at a catering hall. “We decided that no matter how crowded our Kiddush room may feel, this year we must absolutely observe Pesach in our new home,” Bébé explained. The rabbi, a mother of four, said she is going to take special delight in hiding the afikomen in the congregation’s new location for the first time.
Founded in 1995 and claiming more than 280 families as members, CJL is one of five Reform congregations in Paris, located near the historic Marais district. The 3,000-square-foot custom-designed building contains a theater, a library, a Kiddush room, and classrooms and offices. An expansion that will include an art studio, a dance studio, a cyber-café and a mikveh is a year away. Funds have been raised from Jewish foundations, the city of Paris, the regional governmental council, and from members and private donors.
In addition to regular holiday observance, the congregation’s cultural arm, Nitsa, hosts events for the general public: art exhibits, live concerts, dance performances, courses and lectures.
Members see the new building as Paris’s first Reform Jewish community center; most Parisian Jews belong to Orthodox synagogues.
Lisa Reznik is a freelance journalist with a Master of Arts in Journalism from New York University.