In a tradition that has lasted 80 years — double the time the ancient Israelites wandered in the desert — the Dinnerman family gathered for a seder on the Saturday night following the end of Passover. At the ritual dinner they celebrated both the Jews’ Exodus from Egyptian slavery and the enduring bonds of their own family.
Family members are clearly proud of what makes their holiday happening special. “One thing that makes this seder different from all other seders is that we invite all the mishpocha,” said Marshall Resnick of West Orange. “This is the longest-running Jewish family circle in the world.”
The holiday family reunion took place this year on April 22, when more than 65 Dinnerman relatives — plus a few friends of the family — gathered in a party room at Eppes Essen delicatessen in Livingston to honor the special ties that have bound them together since 1910, when nine Dinnerman siblings emigrated from Russia to Newark. Four others stayed in Russia.
“After they grew up and got married they still wanted a way to stay together, so they began meeting at each other’s houses” — the families of three of the siblings did live in one house in the
Weequahic section — said Eileen Greenberg of Springfield, whose mother, Miriam Dinnerman Lerner, was the youngest of the Dinnerman children.
The post-Pesach dinner began in 1937 in a family member’s home, and the annual tradition has been a way of bringing the extended family together. For many years, after the gathering became too large for their homes, it was held at Eppes Essen before moving to Twin Brooks Country Club in
Watchung, then back to Eppes Essen.
The group was originally called the Benjamin Dinnerman Family Circle, named after the relative who, say family members, was a prominent rabbi in Newark. After his wife, Esther, died in 1949, the group became the B. and E. Dinnerman Family Circle.
After all the siblings died, said Greenberg, “we kept it going with cousins” to keep the family ties strong.
“I was at the seder as a child 80 years ago,” said one of the founding cousins of the family circle, 89-year-old Barbara Dinnerman of Fords. “The first seder was at my bubba’s house in Newark. This means family to me, and we should always stick together.”
While many in the Dinnerman family have remained in the New Jersey suburbs, a few came from out of state, mainly Pennsylvania and New York. But Shelley Harrison, Barbara’s daughter, traveled the longest distance to be there—from Deerfield Beach, Fla., because “this is my family. This is the one time a year we all get together. My mom is the matriarch. I get history. I get love. I get time with my family all in one day.”
Resnick co-led the brief and highly unorthodox ceremony with his sister, Enid Lutz of Warren. Resnick began by telling the participants to put aside the Maxwell House Haggadahs on their plates.
Next was a song parody — “Take Me Out to the Seder” — to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Among its lyrics were “Feed me on matzah and chicken legs/ I don’t care for the hard-boiled eggs.”
Then Resnick summoned 16 family members — 10 adults and six children, including teenagers — to tell the story of Passover from a printed script. For 25 minutes they played the parts of Moses, Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and the Israelites. Serious themes of slavery and escape, of plagues and miracles, were interspersed with moments of humor.
In the Dinnerman family version, the Jews in bondage formed a “Let My People Go Committee” to fight for their freedom. A dermatologist was summoned to treat the Egyptians for boils.
“Why is this holiday called Passover?” asked one character.
“Because it sounds a lot better than Bloody Door Day,” responded another.
Susan Saunders of Woodbridge is considered the family historian, a title she wears proudly. “This is my family. It is my life. I have grown up with these people for my entire life,” she said.
Paula Piserchio of Linden, whose father was Italian and mother was Jewish, is not related to the Dinnermans; she’s been a friend of the family for 45 years. “It means everything to get together with them,” she said. “I’ve been coming for the last 30 years.”
Dennis Healy is an Irish-Catholic who is married to Jody Green, an in-law of the Dinnerman family. They live in Colonia. “I come here every year,” Healy told NJJN. “This is a very different culture, and it is very interesting.”
The youngest in attendance was two-year-old Pablo Dinnerman, who lives in Manhattan with his family. He is the great-grandson of Nathan Dinnerman, the grandson of Raymond Dinnerman, the son of Seth Dinnerman and Alex Cordero, and the younger brother of Lucas Dinnerman.
“When they get older I am going to encourage the boys to keep this tradition going,” said Seth.