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Shared Passover in Santa Rosa

  • Josh Stithem, right, recovers from a potent bite of Maror, freshly grated horseradish that represents the bitterness of the Jews' slaver in Egypt, while his brother David Stithem looks on, during the Passover Seder at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, Calif., on March 27, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

With a hall full of congregants seated at tables decorated with Seder plates, Rabbi George Gittleman flung open the doors to Congregation Shomrei Torah to see if anyone else wanted to come inside.

"I open the door and yell out loud, because I can be here and be fully Jewish and I'm so grateful for that," Gittleman said.

The gesture was symbolic, since the event was sold out, but it represented the theme of the evening: the celebration of freedom from repression. It also mirrored the congregation's goal of reaching out to the community, one of the main reasons the temple decided to host its first Community Passover Seder open to nonmembers.

Passover Seder In Santa Rosa

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"We have a very diverse group here," Gittleman said to the crowd of 160. "We have Christians, we have Jews, we have people with various beliefs and orientations, and we're so glad you're here."

Passover, one of Judaism's major holidays, celebrates the liberation of Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt.

There were a range of circumstances that led each individual through the door and into fellowship Wednesday night. Rudy Goldstein, 65, of Santa Rosa said it was the first time he attended a Seder at a synagogue since he was a teenager.

Retired nurse Rose Rivera, 74, was curious after studying the history of Israel and the plight of the Jews in the Holocaust, she said.

"Something inside me said, 'You have to go to this Seder'," Rivera said.

For Rina Czapszys, 40, a physical therapist, the evening was a chance to reconnect with a tradition that she's missed since she began going through a divorce with her partner, who was her connection to Judaism.

"I think it's a beautiful ritual," Czapszys said. "I love the songs. I love the tradition of remembering sad times, and it gives that much more meaning to what you have now, and I always like an excuse to eat and be with friends and family."


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