by Carole Verona
“In this day and age there is a real need to remind people that we are connected as faith communities — connected in support and solidarity with one another,” insists Rabbi Glenn Ettman, of Congregation Or Ami, 708 Ridge Pike in Lafayette Hill, who along with Cantor Jordan Franzel is inviting members of all faiths to share a taste of Passover and the story of freedom at an interfaith seder. Rabbi Ettman will lead the seder on Thursday, March 15, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
“The story of the exodus and the meaning behind it are eternal. I frequently teach that the Torah is not a book about what happened but rather a book about what is happening. The story of the exodus reminds us of the struggle to attain freedom and the hope that we have when we begin a new journey,” added Rabbi Ettman.
There will be opportunities for everyone to be involved. Rabbi Ettman and Cantor Franzel created an interfaith haggadah (a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the seder) in English that will incorporate contemporary readings, music and stories so that non-Jewish guests can fully participate.
How can a story that is thousands of years old remain relevant to us today? Rabbi Ettman believes it’s because the story is not neat and tidy. “There were challenges all along the way, from Moses having to plead with Pharaoh to the 10 plagues. There were even difficult moments when the Israelites crossed the sea. And finally, when they get to the other side, they begin a long road to freedom. The key component is that the Israelites had faith. That, to me, is the greatest lesson. By telling the story each year, we are obligated to taste a sense of freedom for the first time.”
If you have never attended a seder, here are some things to know if you decide to go. The website ReformJudaism.org explains that the word seder actually means “order.” It is called this because the meal is done in a certain order which takes us from slavery to freedom. The haggadah explains the significance of the foods on the seder plate, recounts the highlights of the exodus and includes songs, prayers, questions and vignettes. Seders are meant to be low-key and fun. Questions are welcome, and a lighthearted spirit is in order.
The seder plate contains symbolic foods, including matzoh (unleavened bread), bitter herbs (usually horseradish) to symbolize the harshness endured by the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, a sweet mixture representing the mortar and brick used by the Hebrew slaves to build the pyramids, a shank bone and a hard-boiled egg.
There will be a cup of wine on each table that is filled for Elijah the prophet. There is a tradition that Elijah visits every Jewish home on Passover to witness the celebration and perhaps to bring us into a time of peace and freedom for all. Two more recent customs include putting a cup of water on the table to remind us of Miriam’s well that traveled with the Israelites in the desert, and putting an orange on the seder plate to honor the role of women and/or gays and lesbians in Jewish life. The seder meal will be prepared by Infinity Caterers of Manayunk.
Rabbi Ettman is a graduate of Brandeis University outside of Boston with an honors degree in Theater Arts and Judaic Studies as well as the Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a master’s degree in Performance Studies.
“There was always something about Judaism that attracted me,” Rabbi Ettman told us in an earlier interview. “Being a rabbi is more than just reading, studying and teaching; more than just preaching and counseling; more than just sitting down and having a frozen yogurt with a 17-year-old struggling to get into college; more than holding somebody’s hand when he is dying. Being a rabbi is deeply rooted in my heart and soul, something I knew early on that I needed to be doing with my life…
“One of the things that is just ingrained in the community and that you very much see through the Jewish family is the focus on family, on education and on growing. That’s why you see so many Jewish Nobel Prize winners.” (Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, as of 2013, 193 of the 855 Nobel honorees have been Jewish. That is 22%. Jews make up only 0.2% of the global population.)
Ron Petrou contributed to this article. For more information about the interfaith seder, call 610-828-9066.