Rabbi Motti Seligson hasn't spent a Passover Seder with his family since the age of 16. He's not alone. Every year, thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis and rabbinical students travel around the world with their parents' permission to assist Chabad Houses with their Passover needs and conduct Seders in Jewish communities without a permanent rabbi.

Such celebrations frequently attract hundreds of people, as was the case this year in Cambodia, where young couple Rabbi Mendy and Esti Boaz organized the first modern Seder in the Southeast Asian nation.

Seligson is among the most traveled of itinerant emissaries, having spent Passovers in Cyprus, Australia, Russia, Ukraine and several nations in Africa. Last year while on his way to Windhoek, Namibia, he was stopped at a border check for running out of pages in his much used passport.

This year, Seligson and a partner ran festivities in Abuja, Nigeria, one of half a dozen African locations that hosted Seders. Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, the Congo-based executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Central Africa, organized the teams of visiting students, who traveled to such places as Uganda and Ethiopia.

In Africa, as at the other locations worldwide, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, co-sponsored the visiting rabbinical teams.

For Seligson, who had to shop for Passover food in New York and then figure out how to fit all the kosher meat, wine and matzah in luggage that couldn't weigh more than 50 pounds, the trip was another in a series of rewarding experiences with Jews in far-flung places across the globe.

For his Brooklyn, N.Y., family, however, it was another year without their son. In many communities, yeshiva students can be expected to spend Passover at home, where family members young and hold join in sharing teachings on the Haggadah. That's not the case in Chabad-Lubavitch.

"Motti hasn't been with us for years," said Rabbi Michoel Seligson. "These special family experiences are precious and irreplaceable."

Nevertheless, Seligson's family – and the thousands of others who set one place, or even two or three, less at their table when their children go abroad – appreciates the special mission he takes on in assisting others who might have gone without a Seder.

Before he sped off to the airport to catch his first flight to Frankfurt, Germany, Seligson's mother gave him encouraging words and a duffel bag full of sandwiches and other food. It came in handy when the young rabbi realized that his pre-ordered kosher meals hadn't made either of his flights.

Worth the Self Sacrifice

Rabbi Motti Seligson kneads the dough as the children have fun during a model matzah bakery in Abuja, Nigeria.
Rabbi Motti Seligson kneads the dough as the children have fun during a model matzah bakery in Abuja, Nigeria.
At the six tables lined together in the Glassner family home in Montreal, one member was missing for the Passover Seder. Although relatives flew in from Michigan, Iowa and New York to spend the holiday in Canada, son Yaakov was in New Zealand to assist the small Jewish community in Dunedin with its Seder.

"I miss him," said father Yerachmiel Glassner. "He adds a lot to our Seder. It would have been nice if he were here."

In Abuja, Seligson and Rabbi Sholomke Nagar began their work immediately after arriving on April 15. They traveled through the city's streets to find their way to a local shop and find other Jews. The next day, they organized programs for the community's Jewish children: a model matzah bakery, an evening search for leavened products conducted by candlelight, and a lesson in the Four Questions asked at the Seder. They also put tefillin on the men and distributed holiday and Shabbat candles to the women.

Just before the onset of Shabbat, they went to the local Woosah Market, where eager peddlers hawked every good imaginable. According to Seligson, the smell of the chickens and produce was so thick, "you could almost cut it with a knife."

Upon their return to a compound housing an engineering firm, they set up for a Seder expected to draw about 250 people.

Things were a little different in Montreal.

As the adults prepared lavish Shabbat, holiday and Seder meals Thursday and Friday last week, the children studied and analyzed the various Haggadah commentaries stacked on one of the tables. Grandchildren from New York played in the courtyard while the grandparents took a short rest on the couches.

"Although I cannot do it myself," Glassner said of his son, who organized a Seder in Dunedin, New Zealand, "I feel it an honor that he is making a Seder for Jews in far-flung places."

Glassner noted that his son is taking to heart the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory: "He is learning from the Rebbe's great love for his fellow wherever they may be."

In Nigeria, Seligson admitted that giving up a family Seder is a hard thing to do.

"Growing up, Passover with family was always a highlight," he said. "I'd love to celebrate at home, but assisting others where there is no one else to assist is something I learned from the Rebbe."

Limor Port of Abuja said that the communities appreciate the sacrifice.

"It was great having the rabbis to celebrate the Seder with us here in Abuja," said Porat. "The kids really connected with them."

"I learned a lot from all of the activities," said son Ofir Porat, 12. "I really enjoyed the Seder. Motti and Shalom really taught us well and were really fun."

"We hope to see them next year," remarked Moshe Porat.

Despite the loss, Seligson's mother wouldn't have it any other way.

"We proudly encourage him to continue conducting Seders," said Chana Seligson. "What he does is so crucial to Jewish life wherever he is sent."