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Eitz Chayim celebrates Passover by stressing locally grown foods

Posted by Maureen Quinlan  April 5, 2012 03:36 PM

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At Congregation Eitz Chayim in Cambridge, Rabbi Liza Stern’s desk is full of glittery frogs fashioned from construction paper – props for a Passover celebration that recalls the plagues said to befall Egyptians in ancient days.

“The kids make the frogs, then we put them around the building to give people the feeling that Passover is here,” says Stern. “Sometimes you just have to shake it up to get people’s attention.”

This year, Eitz Chayim is inviting Jews to consider a contemporary theme on the harvest holiday that marks the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. Jews celebrate the start of Passover by gathering for a communal meal and service called a seder.

Eitz Chayim will host a seder Saturday that Stern says will prod guests to not only reflect on the Israelites’ journey to freedom but also on how the present-day food industry is driven by profit and ease of production rather than nutrition and community support.

“Depending on what’s happening in our society, Passover takes contemporary themes with ancient tradition and blends them together to be a source for change,” Stern said. “We hoped that we could use the themes of Passover to talk about what we need to do to feed the hungry.”

The seder will feature readings, songs and information about conscious food consumerism as well as organized group discussions.

Last year, Stern spent a sabbatical working at The Farm School in Athol, which inspired her ever since to focus on values of farming and self-preservation offering her congregation what she calls “Farm Torah: the lessons learned from being on a farm.”

Stern also leads by example. She may be the only rabbi in Massachusetts who’s building a chicken coop at home and preparing her synagogue to add a greenhouse alongside its place of worship.

But, Stern says the theme for the community seder of growing your own food does not call for a major commitment.

“Even if it’s just a few cucumbers, people who produce their own food are no longer enslaved by what the markets provide,” she says.

A Braintree farm called Heavens Harvest Farm donated enough produce to feed the approximately 100 guests expected at Saturday’s seder, according to Stern. Heavens Harvest Farm grows organic food that goes directly from the farm to the consumer.

Linda Lipkin, a congregation member and culinary enthusiast, is cooking the donated produce.

“It’s incredibly nice that the farm’s donating what they’ve got in the spirit of community and generosity,” Lipkin said.

Guests can anticipate savory kale cooked with pine nuts, apricots and butter, and of course, the traditional matzo ball soup.

The seder, which begins Saturday evening at 5:30, will be held at the synagogue at 136 Magazine St. in Cambridge. Guests must reserve tickets in advance by e-mailing the office at Tickets are $25 per person or $50 for a family of up to five people. Guests who bring food to contribute to a potluck will pay a reduced price of $18 per person or $36 for a family of up to five people.

Stern says she hopes people who are not members of Eitz Chayim or any congregation will attend.

"People need community,” Stern says. “We pull together for a community event like a seder, and then pay attention to what it means to be healthy and live consciously; it’s all good.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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