Interfaith Work in Action

By Kathryn Nealey


Growing up with a Jewish step-father, I have participated in a few Seders over the years. A Seder is a Jewish feast that marks the beginning of Passover. The Jewish Student Union (JSU) and UNF Interfaith Center co-hosted a Freedom Seder on April 6th at UNF. This Seder, however, had a different twist to it. The goal of the Freedom Seder was to inform the attendees of what a Seder is and how one participates in it. Because it was co-hosted by the Interfaith Center, we also wanted to make it inviting to those who are not Jewish. Aitana, the JSU president, and Rabbi Matt Cohen, a Rabbi at a local synagogue here in Jacksonville, lead the event.

Rabbi Matt started the evening off by giving a quick synopsis of what a Seder is and how the Freedom Seder would be a bit different. A traditional Seder plate has a roasted shank bone (Z’roah), an egg (Betzah), bitter herbs (Maror), a mixture of wine, nuts and fruit (Haroset), a fresh vegetable (Karpas), and a second kind of bitter herb (Hazeret). Our Freedom Seder plate however, also included an orange to represent the inclusion of all people, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, and an olive to represent our wish for peace where war is destroying lives, hopes, and freedoms.

We moved on to “The Telling” and “The Four Children.” The Telling is normally the story of how the Jews were released from slavery, but they opened the floor for people to step forward and share their stories of freedom. This was really inspirational and great way to start the Seder. Not only did it help to remind everyone that it was about freedom and being who you truly are, but it also created a nice environment for the rest of the evening. The attitude in the room changed from complete strangers to a friendlier mood. The Four Children represents the four different kinds of people there are in the world. There is the helper, the one who does nothing, the selfless, and the selfish. This really hit home for me, because personally I know someone who falls into each category. It made me think about which category I fall into and if I was okay being in that category.

The next section consisted of the “Ten Plagues.” The original story of Ten Plagues were sent to the Egyptians by God in order to put an end to slavery. They were turning water into blood, sending swarms of frogs, lice, mixtures of wild animals, diseased livestock, boils, thunderstorms of hail, locusts, darkness for three days, and death of the first born sons (Exodus 7:14-11:10). The Ten Plagues we used were modified to fit with what is plaguing our countries today. They are apathy, a lack of universal education, basic human needs going unmet, the poisoning of our earth, denial of basic human rights, disease, extremes of poverty and wealth, social intolerance, ravages of war, and the misuses of technology. Being involved in the social justice movement, I feel like these are definitely the top ten plagues of our society. I am an elementary education major and the lack of universal education really connects with me. Not only does this happen on a local level, where people are not being taught the same throughout the United States, but it is also happening on a national level between countries. “Those most vulnerable in society are relegated to a secondary status by inadequate funding and a lack of resources. Furthermore, elitist notions of privilege and entitlement are curtailing access to higher education,” it said in the Freedom Seder program. Being active in the schools in Jacksonville, I know that this also goes along with extremes of poverty and wealth.

The Prayer of the Matzah was phrased into a statement so that it was interfaith-friendly, but could still be a prayer if someone wanted it to be. Here we said, “We will no longer accept other humans being limited in their potential. We will not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are treated with injustice and inhumanity.” This statement was very inspirational and empowering. It made me want to strive to be a better ally to not only the people around me, but also my future students.

Being able to be a part of this amazing event has already made me a better person. The great thing about it was that you did not need to be of a particular religion, race or ethnicity. You just had to be yourself and be ready to embrace a fun evening.


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