A R.I. claim to fame: The Third Seder and The Passover Journal

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Histadrut, the Israeli labor organization, was founded in December 1920 at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. It brought smaller unions together under one umbrella covering all Jewish workers in Mandatory Palestine.

Despite the American Federation of Labor’s approval of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, many Jewish members of the trade movement refused to support the AFL’s action. Many were immigrants from Eastern Europe and members of the socialist Bund, the General Jewish Labor Federation, which was active in Poland, Lithuania and Russia. 

The founding of Histadrut and the persuasive power of Max Pine changed attitudes. Pine, the head of the United Hebrew Trades, and a small number of other Jewish labor leaders, mainly Labor Zionists, saw in Histadrut a union organization deserving of their support. In 1923, they organized the first Gewerkschaften (in Yiddish, trades or labor union) Campaign to raise funds for Histadrut. Two years later, it became a permanent event.

Adding their support to the Gewerkschaften Campaign were the Labor Zionist groups in Providence, Poale Zion, the fraternal arm of Poale Zion the Farband (in Yiddish, the Jewish National Workers Alliance, not to be confused with the Bund) and Pioneer Women. The campaign became an annual item on their agenda. 

At the same time, they wanted to go beyond the money aspect to add a social, celebratory component. Thus, the Third Seder was born. The authors of the proposal were three close friends, members of Poale Zion. They were known as The Three Bs: Alter Boyman, a community activist; Henry Burt, an industrialist and importer; and Morris Beeber, a businessman.

Verification of my personal knowledge of the Third Seder through sources such as minutes, flyers or news items is, sadly, not available. I have first-hand knowledge about it because my mother, Chaya Segal, and Sarah Boyman were cousins. Our families spent a great deal of time together, as we lived across the street from each other. I was privy to many of the conversations about community affairs that took place between Alter Boyman and my father, Beryl, both founders of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association.

For this article, I also included information from people who attended Third Seders. They mentioned that speakers referred to the Third Seder as being born in Providence.

The Third Seder was held on a Sunday night during Passover, but never when it conflicted with the observance of the traditional first or second seders. It was an addition, a secular reinterpretation of the themes of Passover.

At first, the seder was held at Zinn’s Restaurant, on Weybosset Street, but when Zinn’s closed, circa 1940, the ballroom of the Narragansett Hotel, on Dorrance Street, became the venue.

The food and wine was always “Kosher for Passover.” The program always included reports from the presidents of the three constituent clubs, a speaker with the latest reports from Eretz Israel on the progress of various projects, and a musical presentation of Hebrew and Yiddish songs. After World War II, a candle-lighting ceremony was added in memory of the 6 million people who perished in the Holocaust.

In concert with the start of the Gewerkschaften Campaign and the Third Seder, a publication, The Passover Journal, appeared. The R.I. Jewish Historical Association has copies of most of the issues in its archives, but the first and second editions are among those missing.

The earliest copy available, issue No. 3, is dated April 28, 1929, and Boyman is listed as the editor. The center portion, consisting of ads, is bookended by an English section and a larger and more diverse Yiddish section.

The articles printed in this issue, whether original or reprinted, reflected Uncle Alter’s progressive Zionist views. Subsequent issues carried articles by local rabbis and community members on a wider range of subjects.

In my mind’s eye, I can see Boyman sitting at his desk near the side window of his home while working on The Passover Journal. Arrayed in front of him is a phalanx of fountain pens, ink to refill them, and sheets of paper waiting to be covered with his Yiddish script. 

As I read the aforementioned articles, I could hear his voice emerge in his writing – plain-spoken, direct and to the point. In issue No. 3, in “A Letter to a Friend,” he casts a satirical eye on a number of topics, including the poor attendance at temples (too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter); some of the attendees at the orthodox synagogues; the few cultural programs for adults; the sad state of Jewish education for children; Progressives who hold meetings and protests but do not vote; and women leading Friday night services!

He added a warning to men: Beware when women seriously undertake a project, because they might take over … but perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. They might make “Judaism” a bit more polite or poetic, but then again …. His other column detailed a walk around the city, where he found its important Jewish institutions to be good.

The Third Seder and the Gewerkschaften Campaign came to an end in 1954. The General Jewish Committee replaced the need for annual fundraisers with allocations to the several Zionist organizations. The younger generations saw no need for a Third Seder.

As for The Passover Journal, it came to an end in 1964, when editor Alter Boyman became ill.  

GERALDINE S. FOSTER is a past president of the R.I. Jewish Historical Association. To comment about this or any RIJHA article, contact the RIJHA office at info@rijha.org or 401-331-1360.