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Kathleen Cassidy held her 4-year-old daughter, Naomi Sojourner-Cassidy, as she read a passage of the Haggada in English during a Seder at the Minneapolis home of Andrea and Jim Rubenstein on Friday. The couple prefer to share the ceremony with non-Jewish friends as a way to promote understanding.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Eric Janus held Sam McCarthy, 1, who ate matzo at the Rubensteins’ Seder, a gathering of family and friends of different faith traditions.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Carolyn Chalmers followed along in Hebrew as passages were read during the Seder dinner at the home of the Rubensteins in Minneapolis on Friday.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

A shared Seder that nourishes connections

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH
  • Star Tribune
  • April 6, 2012 - 9:45 PM

Gefilte fish, surrounded by hard-boiled eggs and horseradish, glistened on plates in the candlelight, with matzo bread and goblets of white and red wine nearby.

About 40 people gathered around six tables of food on Friday night, the first night of Passover at the Minneapolis home of Andrea and Jim Rubenstein, who led the traditional reading from the Haggada. For years, the couple has welcomed not only Jewish friends to their annual Seder meals but also Christians and other non-Jews.

"When I was growing up, certainly the Seders ... it was just members of the family for the most part," said Andrea. "We love inviting people who are not Jewish and who have never been to Seder. We have a circle of friends that's very much outside Jewish families. If Christians and Jews can mingle ... then soon Christians, Jews and Muslims will do a better job mingling. And other religions and races. That's something really important to me. It gives me hope something like this can happen."

Such Seders are happening more and more as interaction between Jews and Christians at Passover moves from more formal spaces like synagogues and churches to homes and informal places, religious scholars and leaders say.

For years, churches of various denominations have invited rabbis to talk about Passover and lead Seder ceremonies, which recall the story of Jews' escape from slavery in ancient Egypt. Synagogues also hold "model" Seders for non-Jews to show them the traditions of Judaism and Passover, which began Friday evening and ends April 14.

Yet Jews and Christians are depending less on such formal settings to bring them together. Shared Seders are happening more organically, without the assistance of rabbis and pastors bringing them together.

"Bottom line is the social barriers between many Jews and Christians have dropped so far it's more likely to have some of your closest friends who are just not Jewish," said Rabbi Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, a professor at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., who's written about early Christianity and Judaism. "It is natural and organic. What they're emphasizing is connecting to people as people and not as some institutional representatives."

Edina pastor and author Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon's Porch church in Minneapolis, plans to attend a Seder with his family at the home of Rabbi Joseph Edelheit on Saturday. Jones met Edelheit in the Nashville airport, struck up a conversation and became "fast friends," he said.

"I think the ecumenical and interfaith movements of the late 20th century were great," Jones said. "But they were almost always at a very high level, a bishop talking to a rabbi talking to a seminary professor. I think for Gen Xers and younger, we're probably more likely to just reach out and make those connections on our own with our neighbors or our co-workers rather than because our bishop or pastor or priest tells us, 'Hey, we're having an official interfaith dialogue between the rabbi and the seminary professor.'

"The fact is, we live in a more pluralistic society," he said. "Jews and Muslims and Hindus and atheists live on the same street with me, the Christian. Multiple religions has become the very fabric of society we live in."

Christians have long held an interest in Passover because the events of Easter -- Jesus' death and resurrection -- happened during the Passover festival when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a consultant to the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas, notes there's a tradition in Judaism of inviting guests, including non-Jews, to share in the Seder. She also hosts a Seder in her home and invites Christians and Muslims to participate.

"The essence of the Seder is to pass along the [Passover] story to the next generation of Jews," she said. "But there's also a very strong central theme about opening the door to the stranger. Presenting a Seder that's really authentically Jewish can give a church a much richer, deeper understanding of the religious life Jesus was living."

Barbara Lordi, who was raised Catholic, met the Rubensteins when she married her husband and has attended 10 of their Seders.

"I wouldn't miss it for anything," she said. "Every voice at the table is valued. The Rubensteins have this really warm and welcoming way of encouraging everybody to ask questions.

"The thing I love about it is I keep learning not only about the Passover story but about what the importance and relevance of it is in our day-to-day life and current events, too."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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