An Interfaith Seder

This is a guest column from Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Interfaith Conversations Project Coordinator for the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning.

An “Interfaith Passover Seder,” you ask? What could be “interfaith” about a Seder? Aren’t Seders about gefilte fish and chicken soup, childhood memories of warm Jewish family gatherings, and a few Yiddish jokes thrown in?

Obviously, though the nourishment of familiar food and loving family and friends are surely a part of the Seder experience, a Seder is much more than that. The Seder, one of the Jewish people’s most beloved rituals, is a celebration and symbolic re-enactment of the central event in our people’s early history: the Exodus from Egypt. During the Seder, we have a multi-sensory experience (reading, music, sights, sounds, tastes, smells) which leads us to re-examine the story of our people’s Exodus from Egypt, explore what the story means for us today, and once again claim this story of our people as our own. In these ways, the Seder serves as an invitation to consider once again what it means to be a Jew, and what core values and images are to inspire and motivate us in our lives. The Seder challenges us to examine our own lives, asking whether we are being true to the heritage we have been given, devoting ourselves to standing with the oppressed and working for a more just world.

But the Passover story is more than just a Jewish story. The Haggadah narrates one people’s struggle to overcome tyranny and injustice and explores the complex process of moving from slavery to freedom. In this sense, the Seder examines universal themes of liberation, struggle for justice, and the yearning for personal and collective transformation. This is why the Seder has so readily become the focal point for celebrations of the process of liberation for many different groups and issues, be it the struggle of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and women striving for equality, or those journeying toward healing and transformation, as in those recovering from addiction or abuse. The language, symbols and rituals at the heart of the Seder speak powerfully to the universal core of the liberation process, as well as expressing something that is particular to the experience of the Jewish people.

In this spirit, the Seder presents a wonderful opportunity to ponder universal themes of freedom from tyranny, the plagues that beset our world today, the struggle for justice, and the journey toward liberation, as seen from the perspective of many different religious traditions, all represented right here in the Twin Cities. For this reason, SPIN (St. Paul Interfaith Network) has created an Interfaith Passover Seder, now celebrated for the third consecutive year. This is an authentic model Passover Seder, held prior to Pesach but following the structure of a traditional Seder, led by a rabbi with reflections from Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Buddhist and Hindu leaders on the core themes of the Seder. In past years, this Seder has been a joyful and inspiring evening, drawing together people from many backgrounds to both experience a beloved piece of Jewish ritual and reaffirm our shared commitments to justice and the repair of the world. This year’s Seder will include two new additions: a reflection on the four questions and four children by teenage members of the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, and a presentation of the themes of the Exodus expressed in dance.  It is sure to be a special evening. Come and bring your friends!

SPIN’s Interfaith Seder is held this year on Sunday evening, March 21, 4:30-8 PM at Temple of Aaron Congregation. Check-in for the Seder is at 4:30 PM. The Seder will be from 5 PM sharp – 8 PM. Cost is $15, $10 for youth (18 and under), for a light vegetarian dinner. Pre-registration and pre-payment are required by March 16th, on-line, or a check can be made out to “SPACC/SPIN” and sent to the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, 1671 Summit Ave., Saint Paul, 55105, with “Interfaith Seder” in the memo line. For further information, please contact Rabbi Amy Eilberg.

(Photo: Robert Couse-Baker)