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For Some, Seder Passes Over Home Cooking

"In a city like D.C., there are a lot of people who don't have families nearby or who really don't have the time or means to host a Seder, but they want to acknowledge the holiday," Popovsky said.

Janet and Neil Title, who live in Arlington, have had their Seder meal at Felix for several years. They've been invited to a few Seders by friends and family -- he's Jewish, she's not. "But not everyone gets invited every year," Janet Title said. "Sometimes we'll feel like being at a Seder with a whole bunch of people, but sometimes not."

Executive chef James Muir of Rosa Mexicano restaurant prepares three types of matzoh balls for the Seder menu. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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So they started going to Felix, where they say the matzoh balls made from Popovsky's mom's recipe are fluffy and the pot roast is good.

"I remember last year there was a couple sitting next to us who opened the prayer books and did the whole Seder by the book, quietly together," Title said. "I thought it was really charming."

None of these restaurants offer a truly kosher Seder; that would be an expensive and elaborate undertaking that would require and the involvement of a rabbi and the scrubbing of the entire kitchen to cleanse it of chametz, or leavening agents.

Some hotels and restaurants, especially in New York, offer a kosher Seder. But at least one local restaurateur believes it's against the spirit of the Seder.

"We're closed and not offering any kind of Seder," said John Welfeld, general manager of the Red Heifer in Bethesda, one of the area's most popular kosher restaurants. "These restaurants that are doing a Seder, it's sacrilegious in a way."

At the very least, restaurant Seders dilute the religious ritual, said Daniel Zemel, rabbi at Temple Micah in Northwest Washington.

"A religious ritual begins the moment the host begins to put together the invitation list and begins preparing the home," Zemel said. "It's played out in the home."

"But then again," he added, "maybe it's better to do that than no Seder at all."

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