If you don't live in Gettysburg, you might imagine that a small town in Adams County Pennsylvania wouldn't have much to offer by way of religious diversity. And, if you compare Gettysburg to a place like Washington D.C., or even Harrisburg, you would be right. But, in addition to other factors, the presence of both the seminary and Gettysburg College mitigate that lack of diversity somewhat, and at the very least, create more of an inviting climate to explore and engage all sorts of different issues around diversity. The town is greatly helped in that pursuit by the local YWCA and its fabulous board, which makes demonstrable, intentional efforts to foster and encourage understanding, conversation and support around racial, economic and religious diversity. We're very lucky to have the Y in town!
So, today, for the second year in a row, the Y hosted a "Passover Model Seder," led by one of the local Jewish community leaders. I attended, not only to learn, but also to support this kind of programming. And, to be honest, to counter a trend I really deplore, which is Christian churches hosting their own Seder meals. This is just a bad idea, even when it is done well--and, make no mistake, sometimes it's done really poorly!--so I appreciate the Y hosting this event and modeling something that others could do as well.
It was lots of fun: relaxed and easy-going, interesting and joyful. I learned some new things, and was reminded of some things I had forgotten. [For example, see the orange on the Seder plate in the picture above? That is most definitely not traditional; it starting being used around 30 years ago, and it symbolizes the empowerment of women in Judaism, and their right to occupy a place at the table with men. However, no one knows exactly why an orange!]
As always, it is the blessings that I find most moving and powerful, and the reminder that for the gathered community, each person is invited to experience the narrative as though she personally was redeemed, rescued and brought out of Egypt. In this way, the past event is vividly brought into the present. My favorite prayer is one that comes after the meal:
"We praise you, God, Sovereign of the universe; you have sustained the whole world with kindness and compassion. You provide food for every creature, for your love endures forever. Your great goodness has never failed us; your great glory assures us nourishment. All life is your creation and you are good to all, providing every creature with food and sustenance. We praise you, God; you give food to all."
This year, Passover starts at sundown this Friday, April 22nd. I will be thinking about my Jewish brothers and sisters with particular care and gratitude this year, thankful for their witness to God's greatness and mercy, and their strength and endurance as a people.