Major Changes in how holy days are celebrated

On-the-go faithful have it their way on holy days

Maundy Thursday celebrated on Tuesday, seders held four days late, the Passover story explained by a hip-hop performer.

Is nothing sacred?

"If there is a benevolent higher authority, I don't think he or she would be concerned what day I hold my seder," said Dean Mayer, who feels no guilt about moving the traditional Passover dinner from tonight to Saturday.

As a spokesman for Clif Bar Inc., a leading energy-bar maker in Berkeley, Mayer is constantly on the go. His wife is a busy San Francisco lawyer. Between shuttling their 4-year-old daughter and their 6-year-old son between schools and working 40-plus hour weeks, the couple is shot by 9 p.m.

"There is no way we would have time to prepare a seder on a weeknight for our family and a few friends," Mayer said. "It's far more doable on Saturday --

when we have the day to prepare."

Rabbi Jane Litman of Berkeley's Congregation Beth El is a little surprised that Jews would play fast and loose with one of Judaism's most sacred holidays.

"I know in the rest of society that people move Lincoln's birthday or Washington's birthday," she said. "But Passover falls on the full moon. And you can't move the full moon.

"We already live in this overbusy and overprogrammed society. Religion gives you time to stop and reflect."

But many in the clergy know these are go-go times and unless they make religion convenient, accessible and fun, members of the congregation will let the high holy days take a backseat to PTA meetings, working late and picking up the kids from soccer practice.

When San Francisco's St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church moved Maundy, a celebration of Jesus' last supper, from Thursday to Tuesday, attendance at the Good Friday service soared.

Typically, Holy Week for a faithful Christian is hectic -- church on Thursday for Maundy, church the next day for Good Friday, church on Saturday night for Easter.

"What was happening is that people didn't have three days in a row to attend services, so they were skipping Good Friday," said Pastor Richard Fabian of St. Gregory.

But when some religious scholars argued that the last supper was actually on a Tuesday and not on a Thursday, St. Gregory decided to move Maundy to the new day.

"By breaking it up, our attendance for Friday doubled," Fabian said.

The pastor said other churches are now considering moving their Maundy services to Tuesday, too -- and not for historical reasons.

San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El is still preparing its traditional first- and second-night seders, but is adding one on Saturday night for its congregants in their 20s and 30s. More than 100 people have RSVPed for the event.

"Saturday night is a natural for young adults," said Rabbi Sydney Mintz. "For some attending, it will be their first seder of the week. Others will have already had one with their families."

In addition to accommodating young congregants for the holidays, Emanu-El has added a second Shabbat service on Friday nights. It's at 7:30 p.m. -- two hours later than the first service at the traditional sundown hour -- and attracts as many as 800 people.

"We have many different offerings," Mintz said. "Marketing religion is very important. We have to make people feel the doors are wide open."