Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Festival of Freedom


How do you say “welcome” in Sudanese, Nepali and Russian?  Despite language barriers, the expression of hospitality was unmistakable when refugees from those countries, along with asylum-seekers from Bhutan, Burma and the Congo, gathered for an interfaith Passover Seder last night.

Passover or Pesach, called the “Festival of Freedom” in Jewish tradition, commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt.  Yesterday’s celebration, jointly sponsored by Ohavi Zedek Synagogue and Vermont Interfaith Action, brought the old story up-to-date as new arrivals recounted their personal narratives of escaping regimes more brutal than anything imagined in Pharaoh’s time … schools turned into prisons, hiding from soldiers in the jungle, years spent in make-shift bamboo huts in re-location camps before finally making their way to America.

Jews, Catholics, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Friends, Presbyterians and Evangelicals rubbed shoulders with Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, sharing the ritual foods like parsley dipped in salt water---a reminder of tears—and bitter herbs, recalling the bitterness of slavery in “mitzrayim,” a Hebrew term meaning any place of oppression, whether ancient Egypt or more modern hell holes.

The night concluded with prayers for peace from Lao-Tze, St. Francis, and the Buddhist dharma. 

I was grateful to participate in an event that exemplified religion at its best—building bridges rather than barriers among the world’s peoples, and strengthening relationships among those of differing cultures and faiths.

For a planet torn by too much religious, racial and national conflict, last night’s Seder was a bright moment of hope.

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