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Seder Ethiopian Style

Seder Ethiopian Style

In Bizu, Riki Mullu’s village in the Gondar region of Ethiopia, Jews would bless each other with the greeting Enkwan bessalam adarressachew on the first night of Passover. It means, in Amharic, “Good God brought you to this time.”

Some Ethiopian Jews, including Mullu, and some American Jews will exchange the greeting Saturday night.

Chassida-Shmella, an Ethiopian Jewish organization that Mullu formed in New York a year ago, will sponsor what it calls “the first annual Ethiopian-Israeli seder” in a classroom on the Upper West Side.

The Ethiopian Jewish community, cut off from most of the world’s Jews for more than a millennium, developed its own Passover customs. Drawing from an Amharic-Hebrew text, the seder will feature a rendition of Ethiopian traditions, Ethiopian melodies and lamb –– a staple at Ethiopian seders.

“Glatt kosher,” says Mullu, who immigrated to Israel in 1978 and has worked in New York for a decade as an artist and speaker.

A seder was a natural idea for Chassida-Shmella –– the words are Hebrew and Amharic for stork, which figures in a popular Ethiopian migration tale –– after a recent ceremony at City Hall and a dinner at Makor.

“Passover is a big thing for Ethiopian Jews,” Mullu says. Like other Ethiopian Jews, families in her village would break their pottery utensils before the holiday and make chametz-free ones. They would clean their huts in the preceding weeks and start preparing Passover foods.

The seders took place outside, on the ground; 200 to 250 villagers dressed in yom tov white would come. The kes, or religious leader, would sit in the middle and lead the seder; the children would run around.

“We listened to the kes explain how the Jewish people left Egypt,” Mullu says, adding the seder would last four to five hours.

Mullu expects 80 to 100 guests, including some of the several dozen Ethiopian Jews who live in the New York area, at the seder Saturday, which is cosponsored by Israel at Heart. For information, call (212) 501-2708.

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