A common desire to help others led to the formation of the Mitzvah Initiative, the…
Congregation Shir Tikvah hosts seder: “From Slavery to Freedom: Two Journeys, One Destiny.”
We know the words said every Passover: “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” as we display the matzah. This year, as part of Troy-based Congregation Shir Tikvah’s (CST) commitment to tikkun olam, the synagogue reached out to a less fortunate community to truly fulfill the seder ritual of feeding those who are needy.
In partnership with City Covenant Church, Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, MercyWorks, Stand Out Live Original (SOLO), the Berman Jewish Family Education Foundation and many donors, CST and the other organizations sponsored a Mitzvah Seder in Detroit’s Brightmoor community on Sunday, March 10, at Gompers Elementary School.
More than 300 people of all ages attended and were inspired by the words of the program’s message, “From Slavery to Freedom: Two Journeys, One Destiny,” highlighting both the Exodus from Egypt, and the African American experience of oppression and slavery in this country.
Explaining why the synagogue began this project, CST’s Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, who is celebrating his 25th year as the congregation’s spiritual leader, said, “When brainstorming how to turn my anniversary of association with Shir Tikvah into a tikkun olam project, we looked at the calendar, and saw that it’s spring, when we have Pesach. We proclaim at our seders that all who are hungry should come and eat, and no one comes in the door. If we mean to take that commandment seriously, we should bring Pesach to the hungry, not expect them to come to us.”
Sleutelberg added that with all the support from the partnering organizations and the many volunteers, “the project grew because it wasn’t only geared to feeding the hungry, but providing a program that would be enriching not only for the Jews, but the African Americans, too.”
The Mitzvah Seder was spearheaded and organized by longtime congregant Wren Beaulieu-Hack, CST’s director of lifelong learning, who said event planning began last fall.
Mixing Two Cultures
The program included traditional seder components, such as blessing and eating the matzah, bitter herbs, charoses and eggs, and singing “Dayenu,” and many African traditions, including pouring of libations, dipping greens into a liquid known as pot liquor to represent the tears of slavery, and songs, including one of the most well-known, “Go Down, Moses,” a musical homage to the Jewish persecution under Pharaoh, which so closely mirrored the African American suffering during the period of slavery.
“I’ve always known there’s a parallel between the Jewish community and the African American community: our struggles and our liberation,” said City Covenant Church’s Pastor Semmeal Thomas. “I and the church strive to have relationships with like-minded folks, and when I met with Rabbi Arnie and Wren, and saw how this was moving them, it was a no-brainer. I was excited because the rabbi was so willing to reach out, and to come to Brightmoor and have fellowship with us. When we examine our commonalities it makes for more understanding between us.”
Brother Al Mascia, representing the Song and Spirit Institute, said the mission of the Institute is to engage in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, bridge-building and reconciliation through art, music, community service, and observance of shared and diverse ritual practices.
Steve Klaper, also of the Song and Spirit Institute, noted, “We have an opportunity to take our Passover experience and compare and contrast and put it in relationship to the African American experience in America.”
The volunteers from SOLO, young men and women in their 20s, participated in the event as part of the company’s credo to do good deeds.
“Stand Out Live Original means to be yourself and help out,” noted Andrew DeSloover. He, Jacob Leider, Ben Workman and Andrew Nalian were among the members attending, all wearing T-shirts with the SOLO logo.
SOLO is a new Detroit-influenced clothing company that creates and distributes innovative urban street wear. SOLO was founded by brothers Zack and Jake Silver, and Leider, all of whom were born and raised in the Detroit area.
Theretha Dixon, Brightmoor district resident and a member of City Covenant Church, said, “I wanted to be part of this to support my church and to meet my Jewish brothers and sisters. I also wanted to experience the food of our ancestors!”
City Covenant Minister Roslyn Bouier of Detroit called it a blessing to be involved in the project. “I’m always interested in gaining knowledge,” she said, “and this was a wonderful chance to meet new people and learn about their traditions.”
Shir Tikvah member Eileen Isenberg of Southfield said, “This is something very close to my heart. Any kind of interfaith or interracial events are priorities in my life.”
At the event’s close, Beaulieu-Hack remarked how rewarding the effort of putting together such a program was to her.
“It’s so important to build different communities,” she said. “The room was overflowing with joy and unity.”
Sleutelberg echoed her feelings. “This far surpassed my most ambitious hopes. The whole program was deeply moving, spiritual and meaningful.”
Pastor Thomas also reflected on the event’s impact: “It was beyond anything I imagined. Black and white, Jew and gentile, all coming together under God was really a moving experience.”
— Judy Greenwald|Special to the Jewish News