If by chance you were to walk into the dining hall at the Adath Israel Congregation on the second night of Passover, you might think you’d chanced upon an oddly timed bar mitzvah celebration.
There, at tables scattered throughout the hall, you’ll find 98 people enjoying a meal and revelling in each other’s company.
But it won’t be a young man’s rite of passage being celebrated this night. As has been the tradition for more than 65 years, the Applebaum family will again gather for the Passover seder. They’ve been doing it ever since Nechemiah and Esther Shaindel Applebaum, Stephen Applebaum’s grandparents, convened a family seder in their Kensington-area home.
Of course, back then, the family was a lot smaller – just the parents and their four children, three girls and one boy.
Ben Applebaum was Stephen’s dad, while his aunts were Mary Wasserman, Betty Little and Rae Goldstein.
Each went on to have families of their own, and from those children came more children, who married and had more children.
Today, the guest list at the Applebaum seder includes four generations, all of them descended just on the paternal (Nechemiah’s) side, said Stephen. The original two generations – his grandparents and their four children and spouses – are no longer with us, but the remaining four generations span ages ranging from 76 to kids only a couple of months old.
The seder is an important part of family life, the glue that keeps it together and allows everyone to keep in touch, and meet new spouses and children, Applebaum said.
At 58, Stephen is one of the older participants. He can remember the early days of the seders back when he was a youngster. The Goldstein, Wasserman, Little and Applebaum families took turns hosting them, he recalled. Once every four years, they’d all head out to Hamilton, where the Goldstein family resided.
He recalls those seders fondly.
“My father ran the seder,” Applebaum said. “He was very serious about it, but he always had a smile” for the children.
“It was always great to hang out with my cousins. That’s how my family has remained so close over the years. It allows the cousins to meet [others’] children, their spouses. It’s a time when we all get together. Everybody knows to come to the Applebaum family seder.”
As in many other families, the head of the household – in this case, Stephen’s brother, Alan – leads the seder and calls upon others, including the children, to participate by reading from the Haggadah.
The family has added a tzedakah component to the tradition – raising money for a worthwhile charity. Past recipients have included Ve’ahvata, Baycrest and the One Family Fund. Applebaum expects the family will raise about $10,000 this year.
Putting together a seder on this scale is a monumental undertaking, one that requires lots of lead time.
“For me it’s a lot of work. I start working on it in January. It’s like making a bar mitzvah. We do it because it’s something we like to do.”
His friends and acquaintances can’t believe their ears when he tells them how many people are on the guest list.
“When I tell this story to people, they say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. How do you do it?’”
Ninety-eight is a pretty big number, but it could have been more. The original guest list topped out at 108, but some of the invitees were not able to make it this year.
But it’s a safe bet there will be another big family seder next year and yet another opportunity to create new memories for the descendants of Nechemiah and Shaindel Applebaum.