By Aaron Greenberg
In many ways, it was a Seder like so many others — matzo, the Four Questions, charoset and, most importantly, the tale of the Exodus.
“The Exodus from Egypt is the core experience” of the Jewish people, co-host Richard Wasserman told his guests. As such, it was his duty to help tell the story and answer questions.
And questions there were. For many of those gathered at the Wasserman home, it was a brand-new experience. The American Jewish Committee Diplomatic Seder brought together members of the local consular corps and other community leaders. Nations represented included The Netherlands, Belize, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Canada. James N. Falk, honorary consul for Morocco, served as honorary chair.
“This is the third year that Dallas has held a diplomatic Seder,” AJC Regional Director Joel Schwitzer said. “We saw it as a unique way to engage with our local diplomatic corps. Within the framework of the Seder, there are natural opportunities to weave in conversations about justice, human rights and shared values.
“This year for the first time, we invited the co-chairs of our Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council and Jewish/Latino Alliance. We felt that would be a nice way to integrate AJC’s interfaith and intergroup coalition building into the evening while strengthening our relationships with our Muslim and Latino partners. Moving forward, we will continue to explore who else we might include that could have similar impact on our local efforts.”
Schwitzer said the Wassermans played a huge part in shaping the Seder, from the Haggadah to connecting the food to the symbolism for international guests.
“The tone that Richard sets makes it a great learning experience for the diplomat while still engaging to those of us who have been going to Seders our entire lives,” he said. “He was a great collaborator in putting together the Haggadah, weaving in many of the details about human rights and universal values.”
Tina Wasserman, Richard’s wife, is well-known for her work writing about Jewish cooking, including her Entrée to Judaism books and stories at ReformJudaism.org. She is a regular TJP contributor.
“Tina’s unique and deep culinary expertise provides an opportunity that simply cannot be replicated in other regions,” Schwitzer said. “The stories she tells about the origins of the food and regional differences in traditional Pesach dishes make the evening even more fun and educational. She also takes great care to provide information about Jewish culinary traditions in some of the specific countries represented by our guests. The two of them together are an amazing team, adding a depth to the experience that makes it truly special.”
The Wassermans hosted last year, and Tina said she was excited to do it again.
“It’s very important for the two of us to show the community and, in this case, the international community, a little insight into the holiday and the reason,” she said.
Tina Wasserman clearly was in her element explaining the ingredients of charoset and why they are different for Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the history of gefilte fish, and more.
“It’s my love. It’s my raison d’etre,” she said.
“I like to do it with the Jewish community just as much, because they don’t know it, either.”
Richard Wasserman found many ways to tie the themes of the Seder and the Passover story to current and timeless issues. Dignitaries were given the honor of reading the Four Questions and then reading them in their home language.
Edwin Tench, honorary consul for Belize, was one of those who took part in the Four Questions. He attended last year and was determined to come back — and to tell his ambassador in D.C.
“We were vaguely aware of the significance of Passover,” he said. “It is a fantastic opportunity for us to appreciate each other as children of God.”
This year, Tench and his wife were chatting with fellow representatives, as well as Bradley Laye, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, and Regina Onyeibe, Africa Liaison for the City of Dallas.
Francisco Merino Cabrera, consul representing Mexico, was attending a Seder for the first time and, being new to his post, still getting to know his fellow members of the consular corps.
“I expect to learn a lot of things,” he said beforehand.
At the end of the night, as the guests took turns to stand and share their thoughts, he spoke about how much he was moved by the Seder, and how as a “citizen of the world” he wants to see people come together.
“We’ve gotten such great feedback from the diplomats,” Schwitzer said. “What has stood out the most to me was a comment former Consul General of Mexico Octavio Tripp made at our first Diplomatic Seder in 2016. As the program wound to a close, Consul General Tripp expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about our traditions, remarking that his connection to AJC has taught him how much heart the Jewish community has. At the time he knew that he would be leaving in the coming weeks to take an ambassadorship in a yet-to-be-determined Middle Eastern country. He let us know this and said that wherever he found himself posted, he would be turning to AJC as a trusted friend and valuable resource. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed ambassador to Egypt.
“Through ongoing AJC advocacy efforts, our North Texas Jewish community had a real impact on shaping how Mexico’s top diplomat in Egypt understands the Jewish community — our concerns, aspirations and values.”
The representatives of North African nations were thrilled to be back, and Falk said he was excited to be honorary chair of the event. Last year’s Seder was his first.
“I had heard the word Seder, but if you asked me what it was, I couldn’t have told you,” Falk said.
The president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2001, Falk has been very involved in bringing diplomats, business and cultural leaders, and the global-facing community together.
“We all have responsibility for the country we serve, but we try to support each other and embrace Dallas-Fort Worth as an international player,” Falk said. “I think the main opportunities you have as an individual are to share with others, and it creates a much better air of tolerance.”
That fits with the AJC’s mission, and some of the dignitaries have regularly worked with the Jewish advocacy group.
“Diplomatic advocacy is an important and unique aspect of AJC’s work,” Schwitzer said. “We brought this tradition to Dallas in recognition of the value of engaging the consular corps as a whole over the course of the year.”
AJC has worked hard to build better ties between the world and Israel and the Jewish community. Frank T. Kryza, the honorary consul for Tunisia, has personally seen the difference up close. Kryza began an internship at the U.S. State Department on the day the Six-Day War broke out in 1967.
“That would be unimaginable today,” he said.
Kryza said moderate Islamic nations are moving to form “deep, solid relations with Israel,” and mentioned Tunisia’s efforts to protect a Jewish community that has been in North Africa for millennia.
Falk noted steps taken in Morocco as well.
“In most cases, we want the same things for our people and our children. In Morocco, the king is viewed as commander of the faithful. … The king takes the title seriously, not just for Muslims, but Jews and Christians as well,” he said.