By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 24, 2008
The black and Jewish communities gathered together to commemorate the gift of freedom with the ancient ritual meal of a Passover Seder, where parsley dipped in salt water recalled the bondage of slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and Africans in America and ancient readings from the Bible and contemporary activists shed light on a 21st-century world where oppression still holds people in its grasp.
Close to 150 people on Monday, April 7, attended the hour and a half Passover Seder at The Temple, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the city, hosted by the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition. The group was founded 25 years ago by members of the black and Jewish communities to push for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. The group is focused now on developing leadership, understanding and advocacy between the communities.
“The key part of the Seder is to share the story together,” said Rabbi Frederick Reeves. “It’s a very powerful experience.”
Rabbi Reeves, a spiritual leader at The Temple, on Peachtree Street, led the service along with Father Ricardo Bailey, a parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta.
The Seder is traditionally celebrated on the first night of Passover. The Jewish holiday marks the ancient Hebrews’ escape through the crossing of the Red Sea from slavery in Egypt. The story is told in the Book of Exodus. The Last Supper, where Catholics believe Jesus instituted the Eucharist, is traditionally believed to have been a Seder meal. Passover began Saturday, April 19, and ends Sunday, April 27.
For the black and Jewish communities, the story of freedom after being enslaved is a touchstone of their histories.
The meal “offers history, not just the Exodus from Egypt, but it provides the current history and it provides hope for the future,” said Fawn Thompson, a black leader in the coalition and a member of St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta.
About 20 Catholics represented several parishes around metro Atlanta, including All Saints, Dunwoody; Sts. Peter and Paul, Decatur; and Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Assumption, Holy Spirit and St. Anthony of Padua in Atlanta.
People gathered around the tables shared the rituals: wine to represent God’s goodness, unleavened bread as a sign of hope, bitter herbs to recall the days of exploitation.
The story of the Exodus is an ancient event, but finding freedom is a daily endeavor.
Father Bailey, wearing his Roman collar and a black skullcap, said his first Seder opened his eyes.
“I enjoyed it immensely. It was nice to see the type of common ground that we have,” said Father Bailey.
God created all to live without being slaves, said Father Bailey. “And the gift should be used to liberate all,” he said.
“It gave me an opportunity to notice that God created us to be a people together,” he said.
Nicole Sage, who worships at The Temple, said the meal to mark freedom is typically shared with family members during Passover, but it brought a special significance to celebrate with the black community.
“I like to celebrate that with people who can appreciate that,” said Sage, 35, who works in public relations and was a member of the coalition’s 2006 leadership class.
Kimberly Daniels, of St. Anthony of Padua Church, served as co-chair of the event. She’s been involved with the coalition for more than a dozen years.
Friendships made through the coalition allow her to bring Catholic young people to meet and talk with Jewish teenagers, she said.
“The Jewish community is just as curious about the black community as the black community is about the Jewish community,” she said.
Daniels said she wants to organize an exchange with confirmation students from The Temple and her parish.
The Seder meal is different each time as leaders highlight new areas, she said. “It bridges gaps. It focuses on similarities. Every year I’m learning something new.”
Jan Glass, 35, who attends Ahavath Achim Synagogue, said it’s a key teaching in the Jewish faith that words about fighting for people’s liberation be put into action.
And the Seder reminds people of that obligation.
“I loved it. I think it was such a great way to band the two communities,” she said.