Congregants will share tips and traditions at 'Passover University'

Congregants will share tips and traditions at 'Passover University'

This year, it won’t be the rabbi teaching pre-Passover classes at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood. Instead, congregants will teach each other.

Synagogue member Betty Birnbaum, who is coordinating the congregation’s "Passover University," said the project is part of a year-long series of events involving "lay-led programming for the laity."

Judy Martin demonstrates the ritual of Shabbat candlelighting at Temple Israel’s Shabbat Institute. photo by johanna resnick rosen/candid eye

"This will not be text study," she said, noting that the shul’s Hands-On Jewish Living series, part of its adult education program, has already sponsored a Shabbat institute, a seminar on the Jewish calendar, and a "Sukkah Hop."

"This is experiential," she said, "a how-to approach."

Birnbaum is a proponent of the "Sidney Schwartz model," which advocates "laity taking responsibility for the synagogue." Citing his book, "Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue," she said she is convinced that "ownership of what goes on is as important as an event itself."

"I want to push the Schwartz envelope," she said. "I’m as interested in the presenters as in the event."

Passover University will take place in a "trade-show setting," said Birnbaum, with 15 lay presenters manning booths. At each table, presenters will chat with visitors about a particular aspect of the Passover holiday and give out appropriate materials.

"Among other things, someone will talk about the Haggadah, someone will teach Pesach songs set to show tunes, someone will discuss the four sons, and someone will talk about having non-Jews at the seder," she said. "There will also be a kids’ event, a treasure hunt, and a cooking demonstration, where attendees will learn to make easy Passover dishes."

According to Lisa Goldstein, Temple Israel publicity chair, "the interactive evening of ‘table hopping’ is designed to help participants create a personal and memorable seder."

But Birnbaum also hopes that the presenters will benefit from their role as "professors" and be "honored by the congregation."

"We want our congregants to feel good about what they do and to share it with others. This will reach people at all different levels," she said, adding that one of her goals is to impart a sense of empowerment, teaching that "you as a Jew can do your own work."

Birnbaum, a graduate of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, is a teacher in the Melton and post-Melton program run by Jewish Educational Services of UJA Federation. At Temple Israel, she has been dubbed the "Tefilah Guru," leading a session each month in which members are encouraged to read and think about the siddur.

Passover University presenters have also been asked to bring in items for inclusion in a "Passover Museum," to be displayed at the event. Everyone who submits an item will be asked to fill out a card indicating the significance of the item and why it is personally meaningful.

Temple Israel’s Passover University, open to the public, will be held Tuesday evening, March 7, from 8-9:30 p.m. For more information, call ’01-444-93’0 or visit

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