The American Jewish Committee (AJC) hosted its fourth annual Black Jewish Unity Seder at Adas Israel in Washington, D.C., on March 11. Politics and the story of the Seder—the ceremonial Passover meal to commemorate the exodus from Egypt — were intertwined as participants explored the Black and Jewish communities’ shared message of freedom from slavery. Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel and the Rev. Ronald Hopson of the Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ (which also sponsored the event) led the program.
The event exemplified Martin Luther King Jr.’s sentiment about freedom in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of G-d’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles … will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank G-d Almighty, we are free at last.’”
“This meal is meant to be one Jewish provocation,” Rabbi Alexander said. “Take human dignity and put it in a way our children can understand.”
Rabbi Alexander mentioned taking his son along to protest at the White House when President Donald Trump’s first travel ban took effect last year. It banned citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for three months. It also immediately halted refugees from Syria from entering the country.
“We are here together because we have a shared history of suffering,” Hopson said. “Our task is to be the redeemers.”
Two students from Operation Understanding DC, a non-profit organization dedicated to uniting Jews and blacks to combat racism, gave a present-day version of the traditional Four Questions, which participants then discussed at their tables: (1) On all other nights, our identities are mutually exclusive. Tonight, we celebrate our authentic selves. How are our identities woven together? (2) On all other nights, we connect with those who are like us. Tonight, we build a collective community of different backgrounds. What does our collective liberation look like? (3) How can we build bridges between people? (4) How will you actively commit yourself in actively engaging in positive change?
To commemorate the 10 plagues — blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, blight, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the first born — participants dipped their pinky fingers into their wine glasses and placed a drop on their plates after reciting each plague. Then they recited a modern version of the plagues: police brutality, gun violence, gentrification, mass incarceration, deportation, poverty, racism, anti-Semitism, homelessness, and education gap; violence against mother earth was added spontaneously.
Group leaders shared statistics related to the “modern plagues,” which participants discussed at their tables. At one table, the AJC’s Susan Sloan said black people were more likely to be killed by police, more likely to be unarmed, and less likely to be threatening someone when killed.
Following the discussion, the group reunited to continue the Seder, which was followed by a catered dinner. To borrow a quote from King’s iconic speech, it was all part of “a table of brotherhood.”
By Jackson Richman
Jackson Richman is an editor and daily columnist for The National Discourse. Follow him on Twitter at @jacksonrichman.