A Table for Eight: Embracing Community and Dietary Needs at Passover

Gary Schiff, a resident of South Minneapolis, cherishes his time attending study classes at Temple Israel and caring for his dog, Butters, who true to his name, “Is the color of butter,” Schiff said.

Outside of his daily routine, however, Schiff has made a name for himself in a rather unexpected way. Last Passover, facing a personal need for a gluten-free Seder that could accommodate his dietary restrictions, he sought to be matched with a suitable host through TC Jewfolk’s Passover Seder Matching form. However, when told that there was a shortage of hosts, Schiff courageously made the leap from guest to host, ultimately hosting eight community members.

The initial push came from a personal need, “I just signed up to be a participant … I wanted to attend one that would have food options I could eat,” he said. When he discovered there wasn’t a host available that met his dietary needs, he saw it as a sign to take on the role himself.

“I thought that was a good signal that I should volunteer to be a host myself,” Schiff said, reflecting on the moment he decided to open his home to strangers for a communal dinner.

After deciding to host, Schiff got to work preparing a menu of gluten-free matzo ball soup and other gluten-free options, ensuring all guests felt welcomed and considered. “Macaroons for dessert,” he added.

“Eight people is a lot,” Schiff remarked, acknowledging the leap from being a lone participant to hosting a sizable group. He also noted the diversity of the group: varying backgrounds and congregations, singles and couples, and varying ages:  “I think I was the oldest at 50,” said Schiff.

Of the atmosphere of the meal, Schiff remarked: “We did a full seder…and people broke out into song several times throughout the meal, with very little to no encouragement from me.”

This year, Schiff plans to participate in Passover Seder matching, again as a host. For Schiff, the decision to host again is driven by both a desire to continue creating spaces for communal celebration and his personal circumstances as a convert without a family to celebrate holidays with. “I [relied] on invitations to people’s homes to celebrate community,” he explained.

His advice to potential hosts is rooted in his faith; quoting Exodus 23:9, Schiff emphasized the importance of welcoming strangers and extending hospitality to all, “And the stranger said, I am not oppressed, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” 

For those interested in participating in this year’s Passover Seder Matching, either as a host or a guest, fill out the matching form here!