For One Family, Passover Dinner Brings Special Joy

Posted: April 07, 1988

Edward Freedman couldn't get his family to sit down at sundown. But that was no small task, considering 70 of them were busy getting reacquainted.

Freedman, 67, was in charge of his family's seder at the Melrose Country Club on Friday - the 100th year the Freedmans have broken the unleavened Passover bread in the United States, but the first time in memory so many Freedmans had been in one place during Passover, which ended at sunrise today.

The evening's events excited Freedman, eager to begin the ceremonies.

He had just finished explaining the long road the family had traveled from its first American seder at a small rowhouse on Dickinson Street in South Philadelphia to its annual Passover meal at the Melrose Country Club.

"This is not a traditional seder," said Joseph Kline, 78, the oldest Freedman family member. Edward Freedman's wife, Audrey, had laboriously simplified the story of the Exodus - the Haggadah - so the smallest of Freedmans could better understand the meaning of Passover this year.

Until recently, the family's narrative was entirely in Hebrew.

Finally, Edward Freedman, the oldest member of the family to bear that

surname, got his clan's full attention. He spoke of the years gone by since Benjamin and Solomon Freedman emigrated from Zhitomir, in czarist Russia in 1888, to Philadelphia and married Vitta Ada and Bessie, respectively.

There were 11 children in the next generation, and the family remained close. Through the years, they began to scatter to the suburbs and cities beyond the South Philadelphia rowhouse.

"As we got more affluent and less kosher, we moved to the country clubs," Freedman said, drawing a hearty laugh from the family. "The story was told year after year in a more understandable way.

"Let us give thanks to Solomon and Benjamin Freedman," he said. "For many of us, it meant escaping the Nazi gas chambers and persecution in Russia today."

Freedman said a Kiddush - a prayer over the wine at his table - and sipped it as various members of the family read from Audrey Freedman's account of the symbols on the seder plate - the unleavened bread (matzos), shankbone, roasted egg, bitter herbs (moror), chopped apples, nuts and wine (charoses) and a green vegetable (karpas).

As the readings continued, one of the youngest of the Freedman clan, 18- month-old Kevin Gregg, roamed about the Cousins Club banquet room, taking a look at the grown-ups at each of the eight round tables.

"I don't know for sure if he's the youngest," said his mother, Susan Gregg, "but (he's) certainly the least-behaved."

And, after the religious symbolism was explained and the Passover account read, the Freedman family joined in singing "Dayanoo," translated as "We are Grateful."

Tonight we all have gathered here

The Freedmans come from far and near

To celebrate our hundredth year


The first course of dinner was under way, but some of the women couldn't resist a glimpse of the family photographs set up on an easel for the occasion before feasting on kosher lamb, beef and chicken.

The memories.

"He was the typical Russian immigrant," said Flo Brown, Kline's daughter, looking at a faded black and white photo of Benjamin Freedman. "He would sit in a great big overstuffed chair with a pillow behind it, and he actually relaxed during the seders. He was actually relaxed throughout the whole thing. That's exactly what he did."

Her father fondly remembered the seders in the Dickinson Street rowhouse.

"This man was a patriarch," Kline said. "He made every one of his children come."

But Sylvia Kline, 76, Joseph's wife, said she didn't think the well- attended seders that have lasted 100 years would go on much longer.

"I don't have hope," she said. "We're so scattered. When we were growing up, we all lived in the same vicinity."

comments powered by Disqus