Like Jewish housewives the world over, Nayef Abu-el-Hawa will be devoting much of today to the chopping, stewing, boiling and baking that goes into preparing tonight's seder, the festive family meal that signals the beginning of Passover.

Except that the "family" Abu-el-Hawa is preparing for will number 165, and he's neither Jewish nor housewife, but a Jerusalem-born Arab who does his cooking in the busy kitchen of the Springfield Hilton hotel.

Tonight, members and friends of the burgeoning new Conservative Jewish congregation, Adat Reyim, will celebrate one of the most joyous observances of their faith at the hotel.

Arranging with a commercial hotel for a Passover seder is a far cry from booking a political fund-raiser in such a place. As any Jewish housewife knows, long before the first chicken hits the soup pot or the chopping for the gefilte fish can begin, every inch of the kitchen and its contents must be scoured, scrubbed or burned clean, according to ancient tradition.

Passover recalls God's deliverance of the ancient Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and their hasty flight from Egypt without waiting even for the yeast to leaven the dough.

As part of the annual commemoration of that event, as prescribed in the Old Testament book of Exodus, no crumb of chometz, or leavened material, may remain in the house of Jews at Passover time.

Earlier this week, Rabbi Tzvi H. Porath, who has been spiritual leader of Adat Reyim since his retirement last year as rabbi of Ohr Kodesh congregation in Chevy Chase, set up temporary headquarters in the hotel kitchen, supervising as Hilton employes kashered -- made kosher -- the hotel's banquet kitchen.

And he'll be there most of today even though Abu-el-Hawa is familiar with kosher cooking, since he learned his trade at the Jerusalem Hilton.

When they began planning tonight's community seder, members of Adat Reyim, which holds weekly services at the Burke Presbyterian Church, thought maybe 75 people might sign up. By Wednesday's cutoff time, 165 had signed up.

"The idea that religion is in a decline is just not so, if this is any indication," said Esther Porath, who is helping her husband with arrangements.

The enthusiasm for the community seder is all the more remarkable because the first seder that begins the eight-day Passover observance is usually celebrated by the family at home, the rabbi pointed out. "We're [transforming] the hotel's banquet room into home," he said.

For a seder such as this one, "people are coming because they really want to be part of it, because they really identify with Jewishness," said Esther Porath.

Although there will be plenty of children on hand to ask the traditional Four Questions -- "Why is this night different from all others . . . ?" -- and to find the afikomen, or hidden matzo, many of tonight's participants will be singles.

Some of the reservations came from as far away as Maryland, Porath said. "You wonder what would have happened to them [on Passover] if we hadn't been here."