Over bowls of matzoh ball soup and glasses of sweet, Kosher wine, almost 80 faith leaders and representatives of Tidewater’s many religious affiliations gathered at the Simon Family Jewish Community Center on March 19 for a pre-Passover seder.
The Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater hosted the two-hour event that had Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists sharing a meal, and participating in the retelling of the Torah story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
“Our goal is to build bridges with others in our community,” said Nicole Kushner, event co-chair, welcoming the guests and introducing the CRC’s mission to motivate, educate and advocate.
Using a social justice-themed Haggadah containing the traditional order of the seder— created especially for the event—Jewish clergy and CRC members helped set a positive tone, exuberantly chanting, singing and chatting with neighbors during the meal.
Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg of Ohef Sholom Temple, president of the Hampton Roads Board of Rabbis and Cantors, began the seder, with her fellow board members taking turns leading.
In a seamless, casual manner, participating Tidewater rabbis and cantors—seated at tables throughout the room—passed microphones to one another, reading or chanting in Hebrew and English, often sharing insights or explanations with the guests.
“This is a beautiful opportunity to meet many people I would never have spent a seder with,” says Rabbi Sender Haber of B’nai Israel Congregation.
Reverend Al Butzer and Randy DuVall of First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach recently returned from an interfaith trip to Israel with the Richmond Jewish Federation. Both were eager for the opportunity to participate in the community seder.
“We absolutely feel a connection with the Jewish people and this helps us to understand both the Jewish religion and our own heritage,” says Butzer. “There is an effort to recover the Jewishness that is the basis of our faith, so we are pleased to be invited and share this seder meal.”
Following the creation of Hillel sandwiches, the singing of Go Down Moses and the chanting of Dayenu, those who began the meal as curious observers soon became active participants.
Veronica Coleman of New Jerusalem Ministries says she was familiar with the story of Moses leading the Jews from slavery to freedom, but the seder brought a fullness of understanding to the story of Passover and the importance of its celebration.
“My favorite part of the seder was Dayenu,” Coleman says. “It just blows me away to know that each piece of it stands alone, that God is good, that whatever he does is enough. I’m so thankful and so grateful I was here to experience this.”
“I like that we can see the oneness of us all,” adds Reverend Harry Hall of Bethany Baptist Church. “There are so many here with different cultures and backgrounds, but this provided wonderful fellowship that opens us to realize we have so many things in common.”
Congregation Beth El’s Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz enthusiastically praised the CRC for hosting the seder, the rabbis, cantors and Jewish community members for participating, and the willingness of members of other faiths to attend.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to recognize the universal themes of freedom and liberation in the seder, and not only teach others how we celebrate them, but also to learn from them the pieces of their culture that can inform us, too,” says Arnowitz.
To find out more about the CRC and see upcoming events, visit www.jewishva.org/crc. To see more photos from this event, Like JewishNewsVA on Facebook.
by Laine M. Rutherford