I was thrilled to receive support from the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards in hosting a Passover seder for my first time this year. Although I was far away from my immediate family, and from the town where I am living, I was able to bring together a community while traveling in New York. Fellow Diller Teen Tikkun Olam recipient Jacob Gardenswartz traveled all the way from Philadelphia just to participate in the seder and we jointly prepared our seder program.
Our seder brought together an interfaith group that included people from diverse sectors, all working to impact the world. Guests came from roles in entrepreneurship, non-profit leadership, media, gender parity, venture capital, investing, and arts education. They sparked new friendships and some began discussing entrepreneurial partnerships, or found that they already had stakes in the same health start up. We had one or two guests for whom the seder was their first, and others who knew the Passover stories and history extremely well. We drew on a Haggadah from JewBelong, a Jewish Funders Network grantee, for our Passover seder, which made our program accessible, funny and engaging.
Guests shared traditions from their own families, sparking conversation about the diverse and distinct ways families celebrate Pesach. For example, Jacob taught us his family’s tradition when consuming the hardboiled eggs from the seder plate: a contest in which people identify which side of the egg is the “head” or “butt” and go to battle against others’ eggs to see who breaks which end. Another guest had never before seen a shank bone on a seder plate, as her family uses ginger. Coming together from different families, regions and communities to share in the tradition together — including a college student who was away from home for the first time on Passover — made the seder that much richer and more interesting.
In March of 2018, the Passover themes of redemption and freedom rang true for experiences affecting so many groups, not only the Jewish people. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, and as we continue to work to overcome racism and other forms of oppression and institutional injustice, the themes of Passover are as salient this year as ever. We read from our JewBelong Haggadah:
This year we are slaves. What do these words mean? We are slaves because yesterday our people were in slavery and memory makes yesterday real for us. We are slaves because today there are still people in chains around the world and no one can be truly free while others are in chains. We are slaves because freedom means more than broken chains. Where there is poverty and hunger and homelessness, there is no freedom; where there is prejudice and bigotry and discrimination, there is no freedom; where there is violence and torture and war, there is no freedom… If these things be so, who among us can say that he or she is free?
Hosting a Passover seder was a beautiful taste of what it’s like to build community around Jewish values and traditions — especially an interfaith community, made up of people rooted in tikkun olam efforts in diverse sectors. This taste made me eager for more! I am so thankful to the Diller Teen Awards community for helping make these experiences possible, and I am confident the alumni community will continue to grow as we also grow over time in our leadership journeys and relationships to Judaism.