From the Editor // March/April 2015
The ground is lurching beneath the feet of European Jews, with anti-Semitism rising up around them. We American Jews are rightly concerned at this alarming turn of events. We fear the spread of this new, especially virulent form of anti-Semitism to our own shores. We feel disgusted but helpless. What can we do?
I believe that each of us has an obligation to fight anti-Semitism, just as we should stand up to any other deeply ingrained prejudice that we encounter. To do this, we must combat the ignorance that nourishes this disease. The task is not as daunting as it may seem. There is something simple each of us can do this Passover, which is just a few weeks away. It won’t root out extremism instantly, but it will make a difference in the long term. Invite non-Jews to your seder this year.
I am launching the “Invite a Non-Jew To Your Seder” campaign. Our goal is for as many Jewish families as possible to invite an average of two non-Jews to a seder this year. If every family does this, some six million non-Jews will experience a seder this year, and at the very least taste traditional Passover foods and learn of their significance—not to mention gain an invaluable window into Jewish values and a better understanding of the connection Jews feel to the land of Israel. (Here’s how I calculated this number: With some 14 million Jews on the planet today, I estimate there could be two million seders held on the night of April 3, the first night of Passover, and another million for the second seder the following evening.)
I speak from experience because I am an inveterate inviter of non-Jews to seders. I grew up in a typical Conservative home, where seders were purely family affairs. But later, when I was a single mom, my son and I often found ourselves with no place to go if we didn’t travel out of town to join family. To fill the void, I held my own seders. Our guests were largely my son’s friends and their parents—the members of our local “family”—and most of them were not Jewish. The gathering was multi-generational: Our dear departed friend, James Bronson, an elderly African American, sat at the head of the table across from me. Of course, we always welcomed various other Jewish friends who were seder-less.
In breaking down barriers between various faiths and strengthening the bonds between us, we learned together and invented our own family traditions. One of those was an annual discussion about slavery, the theme of Passover, led by Mr. Bronson. A descendant of slaves born into rural poverty in Georgia, he had suffered egregiously from prejudice throughout his life. We also colored in pictures of Moses and Miriam, read Isaac Bashevis Singer stories, loudly sang Dayenu, and, of course, ate and talked about what we ate. Jew and non-Jew alike learned the prayers and the songs. Today the children of our seder—Jewish and not—have gone out into the world and become amazing young adults. Each of them carries within the joy and lessons of these very special nights.
There are other benefits to inviting non-Jews to your seder table beyond countering anti-Semitism. Including non-Jews is like hitting a refresh button, opening up new questions so that you discover new folds of the Exodus story and re-explore the themes of the Haggadah. It encourages us to make our seders lively and accessible and makes interfaith family members feel at ease.
I know that what I advocate is contrary to traditional Jewish law. Technically, Jews are not supposed to invite non-Jews to their seder table. The primary reason for this prohibition stems from a ruling that permits a Jew to cook only for others who observe the laws of a holiday. The only exception to this is if Passover falls on Shabbat, when one is not permitted to cook in any case. Moreover, it can be deduced from Exodus 12:43 that the sacrificial lamb cannot be eaten by non-Jews. Some also believe it is inappropriate to share matzah with a non-Jew. But like many Jewish laws, these have been subject to a millennium of rabbinical interpretation. A majority of rabbis today would not censure a Jew who invites non-Jews to a seder and have even drawn on other traditional sources to circumvent this prohibition.
I am from the school of Jewish thought that embraces inclusion over the letter of the law, and to my ears prohibitions such as these are painfully out of touch with the meaning of Judaism. I see inviting non-Jews to seders as a way of repairing the world, and in that vein, I ask you to join our campaign. Share our rituals and explain them. Include children, anyone who would benefit from a good meal or who is in need of community, and Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths, too. Visit us at momentmag.com/inviteanonjew2yourseder to tell us your personal seder stories! Let us know whom you plan to invite this year and what happens, or let us know what you have experienced in previous years. Share photos and videos of a non-Jew breaking matzah with you using the hashtag #inviteanonjew2yourseder. Together, we will embrace our freedom this Passover and work toward inoculating present and future generations with a booster shot against old and new strains of anti-Semitism.