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Jewish-Muslim Passover Seder Commemoration

Local multi-religious celebrations and interfaith dialogue inspire communities nationwide.

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From left, Farhanahz Ellis, the interfaith and outreach director for ADAMS, Andrea Barron, organizer of the Seder for Washington Area Jews for Jewish-Muslim Understanding, ADAMS board member Rizwan Jaka, and his wife Priscilla Martinez, herself a local political and community activist, sit together at the interfaith Passover Seder.

With one foot in Fairfax County and the other in Loudoun, (yes, they needed permits from both counties during construction) the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling couldn’t have been a better choice of venue for an interfaith commemoration of Passover, the ancient Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The building, with its cross-counties placement, symbolizes the bridge building that took place on Saturday, March 30, when members of the ADAMS Center co-sponsored a Passover Seder with the Washington Area Jews for Jewish-Muslim Understanding, led by Andrea Barron. Sitting side-by-side in the small meeting room were Jews and Muslims as well as Christian pastors from Falls Church and Reston.

THE TRADITIONAL SEDER PLATES at the tables contained all of the requirements for the ritual: unleavened bread, a green vegetable, a shank bone, roasted egg, bitter herbs, charoset, and a small bowl of salt water representing a bitter vegetable. Grape juice was the beverage utilized in the ceremony, with respect to the Muslim hosts and participants whose religion prohibits alcoholic drinks.

ADAMS board member Rizwan Jaka welcomed the assembly, declaring himself and the ADAMS community “honored” not only to be hosting the event for the fifth time, but also to be part of the celebration itself. “As Muslims,” said Jaka, “we commemorate when God freed the children of Israel from Pharaoh, and we believe that the Seder’s message is one for all humanity.”

Barron led the interfaith group through the prayers, songs and rituals, with members of all represented religions doing their best to join in. Everyone took turns reading from the Haggadah, the book that contains the instructions for the Seder, the blessings and songs, and the Passover story. “This year, our Four Cups of Passover will represent the universal values of Freedom, Justice, Peace and Understanding,” said Barron. At different stages throughout the ceremony Barron encouraged the celebrants to offer their thoughts on these and other topics, sparking thoughtful dialogue on how to close the gap between the “aspirations and actions of nations, political parties, religious communities, organizations and individuals” in bringing about peace, social justice and harmony. Topics ranged far and wide during the discussions, but often came back to concerns over the political situation in Egypt, the post Arab Spring developments, and how to influence a solution where Israel and Palestine can both enjoy peaceful, secure and prosperous futures.

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A roomful of faiths, customs and cultures come together to celebrate and to share ideas and prayers for sowing the seeds of peace.

ACCORDING TO BARRON, the first Jewish-Arab Seder in D.C. was held 25 years ago, bringing people together to work toward peace in the Middle East. “We are still working,” said Barron, “but look how far we’ve come and how many friendships we have built together.” Rizwan Jaka agreed. “Together we are helping to bring people of all faiths and customs closer together,” he said, excitedly announcing that after the showing of a mini documentary about their local efforts at the 49th Convention of the Islamic Society of North America, mosques in cities including Detroit, Houston and New York were reaching out to Jewish communities in their area to start their own multi-religious Passover commemorations and interfaith dialogues.