When Rabbi Robert Kravitz pulled off his tie at the Latino-Jewish Seder on March 21, he said it was symbolic of seeking freedom. Wearing a tie, he said, is a custom that feels confining and men do it to themselves out of social convention. So he liberated himself of the tie and continued leading the seder, reading from the “Freedom Celebration Haggadah” created for this annual event.
In reading from the Haggadah, Rabbi Kravitz also provided an update about some of the past attendees who are quoted in the margins of this “Freedom Celebration” – including Rabbi Yosef Garcia, chief rabbi of the Crypto-Jewish movement, and Rabbi Andrew Straus, former spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Tempe.
About 60 people attended this year’s event, jointly sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and Valle del Sol and held at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in downtown Phoenix.
Although there were some comments about the plight of immigrants and refugees in the current U.S. and European political contexts, the attendees who sat around eight tables shared stories of their own family history and experiences as “strangers in a strange land.”
The Latino-Jewish Seder has been an annual event for about 15 years, and Kravitz helped put together the initial seder as part of outreach to the Valley Latino community by the local chapter of AJC. On this evening, he brought along many Haggadot – from very traditional ones to the Maxwell House Hagaddah to the “30-Minute Seder” – as examples for both the Latinos and Jews attending to see the variety of approaches taken through the years in telling the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt in the days of Pharoah. Attendees remarked both on the diversity of Haggadot and on the wine and food stains marking their well-worn pages.
While Rabbi Kravitz was returning to lead the seder after several years, the event also attracted newcomers, including members of the current cohort of Valle del Sol’s Hispanic Leadership Institute.
“I thought it was a beautiful effort to reach out to the Latino community,” said Karolyn Benger, one of the newcomers this year. “I very much enjoyed on a personal level being able to share with the people at my table our family experiences – and hearing about their family experiences.”
Benger, who was recently hired by the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix as executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Initiative, added, “I loved seeing the turnout. I very much enjoyed being able to get personal and share my husband’s and my family stories and our Jewish history … with the Latino community, and then hearing from them … about how their parents immigrated here and their parents’ stories. … My parents immigrated to this country, so connecting on that level and being able to talk with them and really getting proximate with each other… was very nice.” (Her husband, Rabbi Michael Beyo, is the CEO of the East Valley JCC and another first-time attendee.)
Asked about how she saw this particular seder relating to traditional Pesach seders, she said, “As a people, we have always connected with other minorities. We have always reached out and looked out for the rights of other communities, whether it’s the African-Americans during the civil rights movement. [or with] Jewish women at the forefront of the feminist movement. As a Jewish people, it’s something that has always been with us. I think those values stem from this story of Pesach. I think it comes from our experiences of being a stranger in a strange land.”