Jill, a Holocaust survivor (left) enjoys the seder with Lori Moore, a UJA King David Society volunteer.

Friends greeted friends. Hugs abounded. And the cheerful greeting, “an early chag sameach, happy holiday,” filled the room. Although Passover is two weeks away, the Selfhelp Coffeehouse Model Seder hosted by UJA’s King David Society (KDS) welcomed over 60 Holocaust survivors who were ready to start the Passover season.

“The seder feels like a homecoming. It’s haimish,” says Jill, 78. “Everything – the tablecloths, the flowers – is done with love and care.

Jill is a survivor who was taken in as a baby by Roman Catholic nuns in Holland during the war. Her family was in hiding and could not risk keeping a crying infant with them.

“I wanted to come because I don’t have too many seders to attend, only one with my neighbor,” Jill says.

The men and women who attended the model seder were from the Manhattan Holocaust Survivors Program at Selfhelp Community Services, supported by UJA’s Community Initiative for Holocaust Survivors. There are 40,000 Holocaust survivors currently living in the New York area and Selfhelp, our nonprofit partner, provides services to help them remain independent and live with dignity.

For some survivors like Jill, the model seder led by UJA scholar-in-residence Rabbi Menachem Creditor may be one of the few opportunities they have to participate in a seder.

“If all we accomplish today is singing a blessing and being together today, Dayenu,” Rabbi Creditor said as he began the seder.

But there was so much more than one blessing shared in the room. Jill notes that the rabbi also led the songs playing a guitar and she especially enjoyed the music.

The survivors weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. Thirty-five volunteers and major leaders from KDS helped serve the meal and celebrate this community.

“We were holding the greens, the parsley from the seder plate, and talking about how it represents rebirth and spring, and I’m sitting talking with people who survived the Holocaust,” says Lori Moore, one of the volunteers.

“For me, that’s incredibly meaningful,” Lori says, “Getting to hear their stories is a privilege.”