The table is set for Seder with macaroons, kosher wine, matzo bread, parsley, apple salad, horseradish. The washing of the hands commences, and each holds out palms to be cleansed. This may sound like a traditional Jewish celebration, but the people around the table are quite diverse. In the corner are couch surfers from Australia and France. Huddled on the couch are mixed race couples, while on the other side of the table are guests with ethnicities ranging from Czech-Slovak American via New Jersey, Dominican and Ethiopian from the Bronx, Panamanian Muslim from Bed-Stuy, and a Russian Jewish immigrant now citizen. Some were Caucasian and African-American, but for most this was their first exposure to Passover.
The Leader explained traditions as we read out of free Haggadah books distributed by Maxwell House. The crowd was not the only nontraditional aspect of this celebration. Certain cues were given so that each person had a turn to read. As participants were unsure as to the meaning of certain passages or rituals, the Leader, who is Jewish and grew up celebrating it, would take the time to explain. A favorite moment was the drinking in a reclining position, at which point the Bed-Stuy native was, “this reminds me of the Lean Back song by Fat Joe!”
The unique feature of this Passover is that the host was actually paid for facilitating the experience by a Jewish organization Taglit-Birthright Israel, whose mission offers the gift of a free, 10-day educational trip to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26. Since its inception in 2000, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent nearly 300,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. As she was a former participant, she was eligible to promote Jewish culture and conversation. When asked why, she explained that in a world torn by racial and cultural misunderstandings that allow for horrors like war and the death of Trayvon Martin, it is crucial to continue positive opportunities for exposure to different cultures!
The evening ended with a dinner comprised of many salads, salmon with matzo crust, matzo ball soup and a better cross cultural understanding of Judaism.