Long Tradition

The Jewish News
Suzanne Chessler

Suzanne Chessler

For 66 years, Harriet Berg has joined the Nadis family seder.

Sara Nadis and Harriet Berg, 1960.
Sara Nadis and Harriet Berg, 1960.

Sixty-six years ago, Sara Nadis was a newlywed whose husband, Maxwell, asked if she could make a seder.

“I said, ‘Sure,’ and he was delighted,” she recalls. “We invited Harriet and Irving Berg and their two young children. Irving and my husband had been friends since kindergarten, and we enjoyed being with

all of them.

“Our seders continued every year after that — and so did our wanting the Bergs with us.”

Find songs for your Passover seder.

As the Nadis family grew with three children and eight grandchildren and as other relatives and friends came to be invited, the celebrations changed. Sara Nadis reached a point of turning over most hostess responsibilities to her daughter, Deborah Rubyan, but kept on making the gefilte fish and overseeing the seder plate.

Irving and Harriet Berg with their son, Marty, at the Nadis seder in 1962
Irving and Harriet Berg with their son, Marty, at the Nadis seder in 1962

This year, with some family members moved on and away, and with the death last September of Maxwell Nadis, more than 30 guests will be seated in Rubyan’s West Bloomfield home with Harriet Berg happy, as always, to be among them.

“I love Harriet, and I’m so glad she has been with us every year,” says Rubyan, who joins relatives at Congregation Beth Ahm for services. “Harriet has had a wonderful leadership career in the world of dance, and she was ahead of the times bringing a feminist point of view to our celebrations.

“Thanks to Harriet, Miriam’s cup holds a place along with Elijah’s cup, which she also has brought. Also, thanks to her, an orange has made its way onto our seder plate as a symbol of women’s rights and inclusion in Judaism.”

Berg thinks the emphasis on women’s rights fits in with both traditions and current events. Tradition has to do with the idea of Passover as marking liberation from slavery, and the timeliness has to do with the movement to end the enslaving harassment of women.

See some inspiring Haggaddot.

Evolving Seder

For Berg, who led the Festival Dancers at the Jewish Community Center, these seders revitalize her religious identity as do the local women’s seders she helped launch years ago.

“When the Nadis seders started, ritual and food were very traditional,” Berg says. “We still use the same Haggadahs, and we go around the table so that everyone plays a part in telling the original story of Passover.

“Kugels and rich dishes were plentiful and still are served, but as healthy diets took hold, the foods on the Passover table fell in line. There are now more vegetables and fruits.”

Maxwell and Sara Nadis with Harriet Berg at a more recent seder
Maxwell and Sara Nadis with Harriet Berg
at a more recent seder

With the increasing number of guests, Rubyan has added table extensions to reach from her dining room into her living room.

“It has been fascinating to watch the generations grow and to meet new- comers,” Berg says.  “Deborah’s son, Michael, picks a different theme each year and makes creative computer placecards and other materials for the people attending.

“Some of the guests bring prepared foods, but I prefer bringing plants, varieties that can be kept and continue growing for years to come.”

Rubyan celebrates each of the people at the Nadis family table.

“This will be the first year my dad will not be with us,” Rubyan says. “He used to make the chrain (horseradish), and when Irving was still with us, he used to be the taste tester to decide if the mixture was strong enough.

“The young people learned and continue our traditions, which include inviting new people. We are enriched by the friends who feel like family and the newcomers who enlarge our experiences.”

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