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“We drummed, we laughed and we learned,” Moskovitz said. “It was a tremendous success.”
The community seder attracted Barden’s attention. He asked Moskovitz and Netter if they would write a Haggadah that Reform brotherhoods across the country could use. Barden said the decision paid off: “It’s so rare these days that men can come together in a non-competitive setting to discuss issues like health and competency.”
The men’s seder is usually held a week or two before the Passover holiday. In 2008, the first year of the program, 18 chapters across the country participated, though Barden thinks that number has increased through positive word of mouth.
The special Haggadah includes questions meant to generate discussion such as, “What enslaves us as men?” and “Why is it important for us to be breadwinners?” It also rewrites the Ten Plagues as issues that plague men such as prostate cancer, mid-life crises and weight gain. The men write down answers to the questions posed by a moderator, read each other’s cards and begin a dialogue. Attendees can choose anonymity throughout the program, to ensure they feel comfortable sharing.
Barden said that most of the participants in the men’s seders are middle-aged and many are fathers, but he hopes the program will expand to include a younger demographic.
Moskovitz said Jewish men are much more involved with family life than they used to be, but don’t usually get the chance to talk about how to manage this new role.
“The men’s seder poses twenty-first-century questions for twenty-first-century men,” Moskovitz said. “Many of them are working the daddy shift in addition to the late shift.”
Reform temples are also dealing with dwindling male numbers. Stuart Aaronson of Temple Beth-El in Providence, R.I., said he thinks the men’s seder can help in the fight to retain and re-engage male members.
“We see fewer and fewer men participating in mainstream organized religion,” Aaronson said. “I think this seder is a chance for men to become religiously involved and explore deep personal issues.”
There is one similarity the men’s seder shares with the traditional seder, said Charlie Niederman, a member of Temple Beth David in Orange County, Calif.
“We’re a dessert-only seder,” Niederman said, and the treats are served after the talking. “So near the end someone always says, ‘So, when do we eat?’”