This week, Jewish families around the globe are gathering to celebrate Passover, the festival that commemorates the Israelites' deliverance from bondage and exodus from Egypt.
For most, the celebration is preceded by a period of intensive preparation that calls for special kosher for Passover dishes and cutlery, rigorous cleaning to purge homes of leavened products and grocery shopping and cooking for festive holiday meals.
With this year's observance beginning at sunset Saturday — the Sabbath — preparation for the festival must be even more meticulous. But in a growing trend, Jews are escaping the rigors of the holiday's preparations by booking special holiday cruises or taking off to hotels and resorts that cater to Passover's stringent obligations.
There's help for those who remain close to home, too. Jews living outside Israel are obligated to have two seders — the ritual Passover meal — so many Pinellas County congregations will host gatherings for their members and the Jewish community at large. Three of these communal gatherings will be in St. Petersburg and one in Gulfport. For the third year, a secular group will offer an "un-Seder for the unaffiliated and unconventional'' at a Courtney Campbell Parkway restaurant, promising to meet religious obligations and offer a bit of comedy.
The ceremonial seder meal is central to the holiday, featuring symbolic foods and a retelling of the Passover story from the Haggadah or service text. Seders traditionally are held on the first and second nights of the eight-day festival. (It's seven for most Reform Jews and those living in Israel.) The first night of the holiday usually is reserved for families and friends, so many congregations hold their seders on the second night.
Congregation B'nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue, has been holding its second-night seder for at least three decades.
"It's to allow everyone in the Jewish community to attend a seder. In America today, we have a very mobile society. People aren't always together as a family. We're so disconnected,'' Rabbi Jacob Luski said.
Chabad Jewish Center is hosting its seder on the first night of the Passover holiday.
"At Chabad, our objective is to make our heritage accessible and meaningful to Jews of all backgrounds,'' Rabbi Alter Korf said.
With that in mind, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement to which Korf belongs has created a Web site, www.Chabad.org/Seders, that lists 2,091 seders the organization is hosting in 517 cities worldwide.
A diverse crowd is expected at the Rusty Pelican off the Courtney Campbell Parkway, where a group, the Kosher Hams, will present what is being billed as "Tampa Bay's only un-Seder.''
The event, for people over 21, is not a family seder, said Rande Friedman, producer of the program.
"We are a musical comedy seder,'' he said, adding that the event attracts everyone from college students to senior citizens.
"This year's theme is the elections. We're having debates to see which biblical character can get us out of Egypt. It's a fun time. We do a little parody and we do the real stuff.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.