Black-Jewish seder holds ‘modern significance’

Lark Turner and Lark Turner

Members of Northwestern’s black and Jewish communities gathered in Hardin Hall on Wednesday evening for the eighth annual Black-Jewish Freedom Seder.

“Tonight we observe a festival of most ancient origin and most modern significance,” Communication senior Chizelle Rush said at the opening of the event.

The seder was co-sponsored by Fiedler Hillel at NU, For Members Only, the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies, African American Student Affairs, Multicultural Student Affairs and Tannenbaum Chabad House.

“To me, this is the kind of event that you see the flyer for and you go just because you’re curious,” said Elena Pinsky, one of the event’s organizers. “There’s a lot of potential to talk about so many other things. It really attracts a crowd.”

More than 70 people attended the event. An adapted Haggadah, or guide to the seder, featured readings, songs, performances and poems from both black and Jewish traditions.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Communication freshman Jazzy Johnson, a member of the Northwestern Community Ensemble, which performed at the event. “It was really interesting. I had no idea there would be so many people here.”

The event featured performances by ShireiNU, NU’s Jewish a cappella group, and the Northwestern Community Ensemble.

Keynote speaker Gerald Kellman, a Chicago community organizer who mentored President Barack Obama, said the purpose of the seder is “not to remember history, but to live it anew in our time.”

In his address, Kellman said it is the responsibility of the black and Jewish communities to define themselves.

“I am frequently asked, ‘What was the impact of being a community organizer on Barack Obama?'” he said. “The most important thing that Barack Obama learned while organizing in Chicago was not to let others define him, but to define himself. Jews and African-Americans define themselves by telling our stories of freedom.”

The group sang “Let My People Go” and listed ten modern-day plagues, including genocide in Sudan and apathy.

Weinberg senior Sean Pavlik said he was neither Jewish nor black and had never been to a seder before.

“It was a wonderful event,” he said. “A lot of the themes apply to a lot of different people, and that’s why I came out. I really enjoyed it.”

The event also featured Jewish spoken word artist Kevin Coval, who performed poems about Passover and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jewish and black cultures share a common tradition of struggle, he said.

“To recall that history and move ahead progressively is a really nice thing,” Coval said before the seder began. “The story of Exodus is really everybody’s story. It’s a narrative that I think resonates with both groups here.”

Rush, one of the event’s organizers, said she had come to the event for three years as a member of the Northwestern Community Ensemble before helping lead it this year.

“I gained such a positive experience from it,” she said. “I always wanted to come back and get involved.”

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