By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — The fourth annual JCRC Interfaith Seder at Shearith Israel on Wednesday, April 6 attracted a record 415 attendees.
Marlene Cohen, Seder committee chair, said that the audience number was double that of the previous year’s 200 or so. The year before that the audience was under 100, she added.
The audience is comprised of representatives of different faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The number of those in attendance seems to be increasing by the year.
“I think a friend tells a friend and it multiplies from that,” Cohen told the TJP at the Seder. “Through the Jewish Federation we have a great mail list and the synagogues also tell their members about the program. Other Jewish organizations do the same.”
Additionally, Cohen said, the Presbyterian church had much involvement this year.
“They really let their members know about this and encouraged them to come,” she said.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas sponsored this event.
Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El and Presbyter Jan DeVries of Grace Presbytery co-led the Seder.
Rabbi Stern thanked the JCRC for sponsoring the event and Shearith Israel — 9401 Douglas Ave. in Dallas — for hosting it. The rabbi commended the commitment of Jan DeVries, the senior pastor of 150 churches, to the process of making the Seder a success.
“The credit goes to her,” Rabbi Stern said. “She did a fabulous job of creating turnout from her presbytery. She was part of it, every step of the way — for something very important to our shared community.”
DeVries, in turn, said she appreciated the opportunity to work with Rabbi Stern on the event.
“It was important to give witness to the very thing Interfaith Seders are about — that we as people of faith can come together and bear witness to the world,” she said.
DeVries said after last year’s Seder, she volunteered her help toward organizing this one.
“And that’s exactly what we did,” she said. “We had a goal of doubling the attendance. We had 120 Presbyterians sign up even before the walk-ins tonight. I went to the leadership and said, “I’d like to underwrite the first 100 people to sign up,’ and that’s what we did. We kept encouraging people to come both as a witness and what they would learn — to bring children with them. It was a great opportunity.”
Based on the traditional Jewish Passover Seder, the program encouraged the hundreds of leaders and community members from diverse faith backgrounds to explore the universal value of “Welcoming The Stranger.” In this case, every person had his or her own stranger depending on the endless possibilities to which someone can seem “foreign” or “other.”
This difference could be based on the color of skin, on language, on place of nationality or something else.
To improve the world, members of the community are encouraged to dedicate their minds, bodies and spirits to “Welcoming The Stranger” every day.
Participants consumed four cups of grape juice (symbolic wine) as part of the ceremony. These traditionally are in honor of the promises God made to the Israelites when he led them out of slavery.
Participants in the Seder included Imam Quasim Ahmed, Minister Danielle Ayers, the Rev. David Batchelder, Minister Pravrajika Brahmaprana, the Rev. Dr. Neil Cazares-Thomas, the Rev. Debra Hobbs-Mason, and Bishop Michael McKee.
Participants also included Sister Patricia Ridgley, Rabbi Debra Robbins, Rabbi Adam Roffman, Imam Omar Sulieman, Bishop George Sumner, Rabbi Shira Wallach, the Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters and Rabbi Stefan Weinberg.
Guests in attendance included Bishop McKee of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop George Sumner of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, Pastor Terri Pearsons of Eagle Mountain International Church, State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), Dallas City Councilmembers Adam McGough and Lee Kleinman, and staff from the offices of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth).
In addition to Rabbi Stern, rabbinic attendance included Rabbi Stefan Weinberg of Congregation Anshai Torah, Rabbi Debra Robbins of Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Michael Kushnick of Congregation Anshai Torah, Rabbi Shira Wallach and Rabbi Nancy Kasten.
McGough was one of many at the event who found it to be incredibly significant.
“As a community made up of different faiths and backgrounds, events like the JCRC Interfaith Seder are of huge importance to our city,” he said. “It is inspiring to see such a diverse group of Dallas citizens come together in support of the mutual understanding that our differences do not divide, but only make us stronger.”
Daniel J. Prescott, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, agreed.
“Through the work of our JCRC, the Federation is committed to forming relationships with the various faith and ethnic communities that make up our city,” Prescott said. “The diversity and stature of the attendees at the Seder shows how successful our JCRC professional staff has been in reaching out to and forming relationships with our neighbors in the greater Dallas area.”