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Friday, August 1, 2014

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Western students take part in multi-faith seder

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Why is this night different from all other nights?

Every year, Jewish families around the world ask this question during our customary Passover seders. Such a query is traditionally asked by the youngest child at the seder, to symbolize youthful confusion toward the idiosyncrasy of Passover rituals.

Being the youngest at most of my seders, I am usually the elected guest to ask the Four Questions. Well, this year, I posed the Passover conundrum a bit ahead of time. That is because this year Passover arrived early at the University of Western Ontario.

With the invaluable assistance of some Western Hillel staff and members, as well as a couple Muslim and Christian student leaders, I was able to organize a multi-faith seder to celebrate Passover in an unconventional manner.

About 45 students, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, gathered together to learn about one another’s religions and springtime holidays.

This experience taught me how important it is to be educated about different cultures and religions. The multi-faith seder exposed me to religions that I knew little about, strengthening my respect and interest in both Islam and Christianity.

Above all, teaching non-Jewish students about Passover only solidified my love and passion for Judaism.

The seder was divided into many different parts. This gave Jewish participants the opportunity to lead various segments, such as explaining the significance of eating bitter herbs with charoset or why we dip the karpas into saltwater.

As the seder proceeded, it became obvious that each student was engaged with the speakers and eager to learn about the Passover story.

At various intervals in the seder, Muslim and Christian students were allotted time to discuss their own religions and its connection to Passover and Judaism at large. To my surprise, scores of similarities were quickly unearthed.

Specifically, similar to Passover’s dietary restrictions forbidding Jews to eat chametz, Muslims undergo the annual Islamic month of fasting known as Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

This time period is intended to teach Muslims about humility and compliancy to God.

Similarly, the Jewish eight-day prohibition against chametz exists in its duality to have Jews demonstrate their compassion for our enslaved ancestry by desisting from bread, while also reminding us to be thankful for HaShem’s strength in redeeming us from bondage in Egypt.

Moreover, the Christian participants taught the rest of the students that Jesus’ last supper is in fact biblically referred to as the Passover meal.

Furthermore, Jesus is recognized as the “Lamb of God.” In ancient times, the lamb was a solemn sacrifice for both Jews and Christians, evident in the Passover story by the use of lamb’s blood in marking Jewish homes to be spared from the 10th plague in Egypt – slaying of all first-born children.

What made the seder so successful was that all 45 students in attendance were genuinely interested in sharing and learning. In order to foster interfaith dialogue and friendships on campus, preconceived notions must be cast away in order to progress.

I believe that such an interfaith event was long overdue at Western. It is now clear that a safe domain to discuss the three Abrahamic religions, leaving political differences at the door, is imperative in growing as a cohesive student body. It is far more beneficial for each faith to bond over our shared values.

Comparable to the Passover story and various other times in Jewish history, both Islam and Christianity possess antiquities tempered with epochs of oppression or slavery. In every such case, there were demands and pleas for social justice and redemption.

The famous quote by Martin Niemoller, the Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter during the outset of the Holocaust, is written on a wall in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

After alluding to socialists and trade unionists, the end of the quote reads, “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

It appears that because of religious and political dissension, we are all losing sight of the basic humanity that binds us together. Most religions hold similar platforms that encourage the use of spirituality to benefit its believers as well as society at large. We should aim to foster a culture that actively supports and embraces humankind’s religious sameness and diversity, one interfaith initiative at a time.

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