The house was full at Pacifica Institute on Thursday, April 4 at 6:30pm, with 150 guests celebrating a Multicultural & Multifaith Passover Seder together. It was both a joyous and a meaningful celebration, led by Rabbi Melanie Aron, Minister Virginia Roberts and Seyma Halbutogullari. The story of the Exodus is found in the holy texts of all three Abrahamic faiths—Muslims, Christians and Jews, so it is natural that we enjoy coming together to honor the meaning of that story. The Jewish tradition of retelling the story in a structured dinner party, with singing and symbolic foods, encourages each of us to imagine that we personally experienced slavery, and walked to freedom.
It is not hard to bring the story into modern understanding, because there are many among us who have recently fled oppression, or whose families sought freedom in America in recent generations. During the Seder we blessed four cups of grape juice, and for each cup a special speaker was invited to share a family story. With the First Cup we learned about the challenges faced by Jasmin and Ike, having to leave behind their careers and family members in Turkey, but restarting their lives together in the Bay Area. At the Second Cup we learned about the deportation experiences of Jesus Ruiz (twice!), who has DACA status and has faced so much discrimination even though he came to this country at the age of four and has only known America as his home. Assemblyman Marc Berman shared his family’s story at the Third Cup–one grandparent left South Africa during apartheid, and another grandparent miraculously survived the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.
The experience of African Americans, who came to this country not as immigrants but brought against their will as slaves, was also woven into the Seder through poetic readings and songs, led by Minister Virginia. The song “Go Down, Moses” has been shared by both communities, with words from the book of Exodus and a musical rendition used as a battle hymn for escaped slaves in the 1860’s. The message is the same in both communities—that we know how it feels to be enslaved, and we promise to fight injustice whenever we see it.
The connections made, and the similarities drawn between all our family stories drew all the participants into a powerful sense of unity. We shared a delicious dinner provided by Pacifica volunteers, and the enthusiastic conversations continued even after cleanup began and the tables were being folded up. Our hearts were opened by the Passover Seder experience, and our community was made more resilient and compassionate. We look forward to staying connected with new friends and joining together again next year!