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       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays





A Real Passover for Them

Deliverance from Russia Celebrated on Ellis Island

200 Jews Reach the New Canaan at the Time Appointed for Feasting, and Great Is Their Joy Make Merry Together, with Rabbi Bernstein for Patriarch.

From the New York newspaper "The Sun," dated Mar 30, 1907.

While the Feast of the Passover was being celebrated in Jewish homes all over the city last night and the head of each family, clad in the kittel, gave thanks for the delivery of the Jewish people out of Egypt, 200 newly arrived Jewish immigrants, mostly Russian, celebrated the feast on Ellis Island in their own way, with ceremonies adapted to their surroundings.

To every Jew the feast had a symbolic meaning. But to the immigrant it had a deep and vital reality, for had they not been delivered from the darkness and tyranny of Russia and were they not come into the new Canaan, the land of milk and honey, America? Therefore they drank of Tokay or schlivovitz and toasted the Stars and Stripes and the blue star of Zion, and praised the God of their fathers for taking them into the land of freedom.

The celebration was planned by the United Hebrew Charities and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society with the sanction of Immigration Commissioner Robert Watchorn. Commissary Contractor Harry Balfe provided the unleavened bread, the knedlich and the other foods peculiar to the Passover Feast. Sixty-five guests, members of various Jewish organizations were present.


Large dining hall, empty except for about ten members of the dining hall staff.
The place settings consist of a worn porcelain-enameled plate, a fork and knife.
(Not from Seder discussed here.)

Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

When the immigrants and guests had seated themselves at ten long tables piled high with fruits and wine and unleavened bread, Dr. David Blaustein of the Educational Alliance told the immigrants that as the patriarch could not preside over each family by reason of its broken up units they would be all one family together and Rabbi Isaac Bernstein, chaplain of the Nappanoch Reformatory, would serve as their patriarch.

Rabbi Bernstein took his place at a raised table and Joseph Zaretsky, aged 6, and newly arrived from Russia, proudly took his place beside him as the youngest boy of the family. The rabbi opened Seder service with a Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving. Then taking a cup of wine he drank and gave it to the boy, who also drank.

The boy then asked the patriarch the four Passover questions: Why is unleavened bread only eaten on this night? Why are only bitter herbs eaten on this night? Why are the bitter herbs dipped into oil on this night, and why do the diners recline instead of sit?

The Patriarch in answer chanted the history of the delivery from Egyptian bondage, and every little while the entire assembly joined in the refrain. "Slaves were we unto Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, our God, brought us forth." To the boy the Patriarch explained that the unleavened bread, the bread of slavery, signified the bread of affliction, the bitter herbs the bitterness of bondage, while the oil, the food of the free men, typified their delivery from bondage, and the reclining position, the posture of the nobility, showed their rise in greatness.

With the close of the Patriarch's chant the boy ran back to his mother to be kissed and praised by all her neighbors. Then the feast was on. Wine was poured. The unleavened bread was broken. Soup was poured upon the knedlich or dough ball peculiar in the Passover feast. Kosher chicken followed the soup. Bowls of tea without milk came next; and then the nuts, raisins, apples, and oranges.

At intervals throughout the feast the patriarch would chant a prayer or song of thanksgiving. Sometimes at a given signal the diners would cease eating and would join together in a mighty shout, "At this time next year we shall be in Jerusalem."

In keeping with the Jewish law for the Passover feast all the table service, knives, forks dishes and table linen were entirely new.

Following the dinner Dr David Blaustein, Dr. A.M. Radin of the People's Synagogue, Alexander Harkovy of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, I Irving Lipsitch of the United Hebrew Charities, Abraham Schomer and Joseph Barondess welcomed the immigrants to America. With a final prayer of thanksgiving and a resolution giving a vote of thanks to Commissioner Watchorn Commissary Contractor Harry Balfe and his manager, Mr. Ainsworth, the celebration was over. next ►►

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