JFS brings seders to seniors

For 34 years, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has been holding seders for senior citizens across the Los Angeles area, sponsoring services and feeding those who have nowhere else to go during one of the most widely celebrated holidays on the festival calendar. 

This Passover tradition continued on March 10, when JFS hosted seders for 600 attendees and 120 volunteers at Temple Beth Am near Pico-Robertson, Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge and Hollywood Temple Beth El in Hollywood. 

“People are very gracious and appreciative of the fact that they have a place to go and be part of a seder and part of a community,” said Sherri Kadovitz, community outreach and special projects coordinator for JFS. “They’re older adults, and a lot of them don’t have a lot of family here. They are happy to be with friends and that JFS provides this service every year.” 

The services were nondenominational and open to the public, who could register through local senior centers. Volunteers this year included children under 10 years of age, students from Milken Community High School and older adults in their 70s. 

The Temple Beth El meal was geared toward the Russian-speaking community, while Temple Beth Am brought Holocaust survivors together. The third, at Ramat Zion, had no specific target audience. 

Rabbi Helene Kornsgold, who led the seder services for the first time at Ramat Zion, where she is religious school director, said she became involved through Kadovitz, who is a member of the congregation. 

“I really enjoy Passover, and I think everybody should have the opportunity to experience a lively, thorough seder,” she said. “I thought I would be able to provide a meaningful experience for some people if it’s their only seder this year.”

The rabbi said it’s important for everyone to be part of the holiday in some capacity because “regardless of what traditions people do, they remember Passover. They remember being with their families and celebrating the holiday. It seems to be one of those things that sticks with people. It’s a good thing that [promotes] positive Jewish memories.”

JFS has been working with food services company Catering by Brenda for more than 10 years to provide the traditional Passover meals. During the event, there was entertainment as well. A klezmer band performed at Temple Beth El, while singers performed Yiddish music at the others. 

Monique Gibbons was one of the volunteers who helped set up, serve food and participate in the seder this year. The JFS board member, who goes to Temple Beth Am, said, “The seniors get a kick out of it, and they have a great time. It’s a lot of fun. …We have people that come back and volunteer year after year, so we’re friends.”

Gibbons added that due to the seder program, seniors have been able to find their own community and come together during Passover. 

“We are Jewish, and this is what our ancestors have done for thousands of years. It’s nice to see that it’s still important to people,” she said.

Rabbi Gabriel Elias of Congregation Mogen David has led services for the JFS seders more than five times. He said he does it because he likes to help people and give everyone a glimpse into the Jewish past. 

“If we didn’t do it, some of [the seniors] would never do it at all. A lot of them are Russian and Iranian immigrants, and unfortunately they didn’t experience Passover because they weren’t free to [in their countries]. They now have the opportunity to experience something that’s part of their tradition. What JFS does is clearly important and beneficial to the Jewish people.”

The community seders held on March 10 aren’t the only Passover events JFS is involved with this year. The organization is also distributing kosher-for-Passover food through its SOVA Community Food & Resource Program and providing additional meals throughout the holiday. In general, JFS assists more than 100,000 people every year through its numerous programs and food pantry, according to Kadovitz.

Kadovitz said she appreciated the chance to be involved with the seders this Passover. 

“It’s a wonderful experience. I’m thrilled that I am part of this,” she said. “It’s very enriching and very rewarding.”