Steve Walk participated in his first men’s seder last year as a member of Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, N.Y. There was no exodus story, no matzo and no bitter herb. Instead, a moderator walked around with a freedom plate, encouraging participants to put down things they felt burdened them. Walk said someone put down a health insurance card and discussed suffering a heart attack. Another put down his business card from a Wall Street firm that had fired him.
“Guys really opened up,” Walk said. “They let go of things that they may never have talked about with anyone.”
The men’s seder, a program put on by local chapters of the national organization Men of Reform Judaism, is a riff on the traditional Passover seder. Instead of four cups of wine and a retelling of the Exodus story, the men’s seder is a casual gathering that uses a modified Haggadah that encourages participants to discuss issues that affect the modern Jewish man. It’s quickly become MRJ’s most popular program.
Men’s seder founder Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea in Los Angeles says the program is an effort to address challenges that modern Jewish men face as they attempt to balance work and family, and to reverse what MRJ Executive Director Doug Barden calls “the male flight from temple life.”
The idea for the men’s seder was conceived by Moskovitz in 2005. He was leading a weekly discussion of men’s issues in his home. The positive reception spurred him to expand it to a Passover seder that he led with a group of 20 men.
“Our seder re-examined the Passover story as a journey through the challenges and blessings of the modern Jewish man,” Moskovitz said.
The success of the first men’s seder led Moskovitz to hold a Los Angeles community men’s seder at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. Moskovitz co-hosted it with local Conservative Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am, Cantor Mike Stein from Temple Aliyah and entertainer Craig Taubman. This time, 120 people showed up.
This wasn’t your grandfather’s seder. There were drum circles, discussions on impotence and breadwinning, and comedy bits about Jewish men. Moskovitz says participants loved it.