Freedom Seder Emphasizes Journey Away From Fear

By Adam Grobman

Racism. Anti-Semitism. Xenophobia.

These are a few of the plagues recognized at the Freedom Seder, an annual interfaith Passover program that brings together leaders, activists, and participants from across the community to “celebrate a joint vision for freedom from oppression.”

The 2021 program was held online on March 30 and was led by Beth El Temple Rabbi Ariana Capptauber, together with leaders from co-sponsors Chisuk Emuna Congregation, Interdemoninational Ministers’ Conference, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Market Square Presbyterian Church, and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

“We tell the story of the Israelite’s journey from slavery to freedom so that we can appreciate the blessing and responsibility of our own freedom,” Rabbi Capptauber said as she read from the Seder’s Haggadah. “The Haggadah tells us that in every generation one must see oneself as though they had experienced slavery first-hand and were brought forth from Egypt.”

The program followed the format of a traditional Seder, with each step infused with empathy for contemporary issues of injustice and inequality. So, after children from the Jewish community read the four questions typical of a Seder, clergy members and leaders translated the questions and read “contemporary questions” to spark recognition and thought.

Four speakers from the community shared inspiring stories of facing and fighting injustice:

  • Dr. Cathy Coleman addressed the evening’s theme, From Fear to Freedom, with her story as an eight-year-old, discovering her mother had passed away. “As deep and profound as the pain would be for decades, it was nothing that compared to the painful reality that I would live as a young black girl that many did not judge me by the content of my heart, but simply the color of my skin.”
  • Alan Levine, a former chair of Jewish Theological Seminary, shared his experiences as one of the leading trial lawyers in the prosecution of the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally. “(Anti-semitism and Racism) is no longer just a fringe,” he says. “We need to be vigilant – all of us – and call the conduct out when we can, each and every time it occurs.”
  • Dr. Ayesha Ahmad noted the similarities between Moses and Muhammad. “Indeed he was chosen, and he was a messenger and a prophet,” she said, quoting the Koran.
  • Eva, translated by Maria Hernandez, shared her powerful story of emigrating to the United States with the hope of safety from violence and promise of better economic conditions. Working fourteen hours a day, she suffered from labor exploitation and was unfairly fired. “She worked from the early hours before the sunrise, to the late horus after dark,” Maria translated. “She believed that she lived in the shadows, as a robot.” Eva was empowered when she realized that regardless of immigration status, she had rights and was entitled to dignity. “From the moment she found she had rights, she has dedicated herself to helping others to come out of the shadows and not be afraid to raise their voices,” Maria translated.

Rabbi Ron Muroff of Chisuk Emuna Congregation, Rabbi Carl Choper of Temple Beth Shalom, and Rabbi Capptauber explained the symbols of Passover – Pesach (pascal lamb), Matzah (unleavened bread), and Maror (bitter herbs), some of which were included in a kit that registrants received.

Participants also engaged in small-group discussion with members of other communities and faiths.

“This holiday is an amazing thing in that it celebrates freedom from three thousand years ago,” said Dan Ocko of Beth El Temple. “I’ve always felt it’s a calling for us to help others and recognize the humanity in others with messages that cross along all faiths.”