By Deb Silverthorn
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (JFGD) will celebrate its ninth annual Interfaith Seder beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, at Congregation Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Ave.
The event, co-led by Rabbi Elana Zelony and Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, is open to the community. LaHendra McCray, Valerie and Arny Felner and Alisha Trusty are co-chairs. The Interfaith Seder will feature a performance by the Friendship-West Baptist Church Choir and a kosher dinner.
“Our Interfaith Seder is a beautiful occasion to welcome all into our ‘tent.’ We want to break down walls and to communicate with one another,” said Cyd Friedman, JCRC chair. “Hate is a huge problem for every community but to be together, to talk about our commonalities, provides a springboard to a better future.
“The landscape is tough right now, all the more reason for us to connect. We need friendships to blossom in order to have each other’s back, front and every side in order for us all to be strong,” she added.
Congregation Beth Torah’s Rabbi Zelony, who in 2018 co-led the Interfaith Seder with Bishop Edward Burns of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, says finding common ground in one room is nothing less than beautiful; anything can happen, hope can happen.
“Many religious experiences come from our stories of redemption. The Israelites left Egypt and Jesus is risen,” said Zelony. “Together we can be free of darkness if all our cultures come together to share a message of hope for our future. If one of us goes to the authorities to report hate crimes, it is one voice. If a coalition arrives standing tall, I believe we can be heard.
“The world has been fighting injustice since it began. But I do believe that from medieval times to today, each generation learns and grows. We have to learn; we have to grow,” she added.
In a season where antisemitism and racism is high on all fronts, the Interfaith Seder’s theme of “Celebrating our Diversity” provides an opportunity for communities to stand together as allies against all hate.
“Following the model of a traditional Jewish Passover Seder, the Interfaith Seder draws comparisons between Passover stories and challenges that we face in present times. It is an opportunity to gather the community to reflect on our shared humanity and shared values and to move forward together,” said Michelle Golan Friedman, JCRC interim executive director.
The JCRC–designed Haggadah relates the trials of our past with those of today that anyone can identify with.
“I have a strong appreciation for the justice partnership that has characterized the best of the Black and Jewish historical relationship. Both communities have been othered and oppressed and have fought as allies for freedom,” said Haynes, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church. “In a climate characterized by division and limiting silos, in the Interfaith Seder we have an opportunity to learn from each other and model the dynamism in diversity and difference.
“I also have great appreciation and admiration for Rabbi Zelony, who represents the best of the rich justice tradition of the Jewish faith. I am honored to share in this sacred experience with such a powerful, good and dynamic leader,” he added.
The Haggadah speaks of the four children, rather than sons: the activist who asks “How can I pursue justice”; the skeptic who questions “How can I solve problems of such enormity”; the indifferent one who asks “Why is it my responsibility”; and the uninformed who is to be prompted to envision himself as the inheritor of the biblical legacy.
In presenting the plagues, the JCRC Interfaith Seder exchanges blood, boils and famine for current day afflictions of gender inequality, threatened human rights, a distressed global climate, persistent hunger, racism and discrimination.
“Interfaith work promotes understanding and respect and acts as a bridge between communities. In sharing a meal, and educating each other about our experiences we can break down stereotypes, build trust and work toward fighting antisemitism and hate together,” said Igor Alterman, JFGD president and CEO. “Standing shoulder to shoulder, no prejudice can be accepted.”
Seating is limited. Required registration, which is nontransferable, is open through March 7 at jewishdallas.org/seder. Tickets are $25/person and $10 for students. No weapons or large handbags will be permitted on the Shearith Israel campus.