Last night I had the privilege of conducting a ‘learning’ seder at St. Timothy’s School, a 182 year old local prep-boarding school for girls. We’ve been doing this pre-Passover seder for many years now. It gives the girls, many of whom are not Jewish, a chance to experience the Passover rituals. Each table has a seder plate, complete with bitter herbs, haroset, a roasted bone (OK, they use a chicken wing bone!), an egg, and matzah. We go through the ’30 minute Haggadah’ in about 20 minutes, and then the school serves the girls a fairly traditional Passover dinner, to included brisket and matzah stuffing. The school does a fabulous job of promoting religious pluralism, and there is a genuine respect for different faith traditions and perspectives.
This was clearly evident just from the table I was sitting at. I shared my meal with a Christian girl from Nebraska, a Buddhist girl from Vietnam, a Muslim girl from Afghanistan, and a Jewish girl from Pikesville, and the school’s Episcopalian pastor. Talk about ecumenical! The girl from Nebraska told me she had known only one Jewish family before coming to Baltimore for school. It went without saying that the girls from Vietnam and Afghanistan had never met Jews in their lives before their St. Tim’s experience. And here we all were, sitting at the same table, and sharing a seder meal! The girls were deeply interested in the Passover story and the various and sundry customs of the holiday. They asked questions, they offered thoughtful responses. They were clearly close. As seniors, they had roomed together, studied together, cheered for each other on the athletic field. Kudos to St. Timothy’s for fostering such a caring, welcoming, tolerant, and genuinely respectful environment. It was one of those moments that brings hope to a rabbi’s heart – maybe one day we really will all get along.
Of course the Passover story works perfectly with this ultimate hope and dream. It is the most particular of our narratives, recalling the moment when God took US from slavery to freedom. The Haggadah text reminds us that on the night of Passover each person is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she had actually been a slave and personally redeemed by God. Yet at the same time it is the most universalistic of our stories. After all, doesn’t every person yearn to be free? Isn’t freedom the most fundamental human right? And doesn’t each person – regardless of faith, color, country, gender – deserve to be free, treated with dignity and respect, and seen as a creature created in the image of God?