Passover came early this year for the 95 people attending the sixth annual Latino-Jewish Seder, held March 9 at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley. Co-hosted by Valle del Sol and the American Jewish Committee and sponsored this year by APS' Center for Culture and Understanding and the law office of Engelman Berger, the popular event once again brought together participants in Valle del Sol's Hispanic Leadership Institute, members of AJC's board of directors and invited guests to celebrate "food and freedom," as Valle del Sol President and CEO Luz Sarmina wrote in the 2008 Hagaddah prepared specially for the occasion.

"I always say this is one of my favorite events," Sarmina told guests March 9, "because it's for God's chosen people: Jews and Latinos." On a more serious note, Sarmina said that current events set the stage of the retelling of the Passover story, because "we are surrounded by stories of the things we hope to be liberated from: discrimination, hatred, injustice and fear."

"This is a time to stand up for what we believe in," Sarmina told the group.

Rabbi Maynard Bell, executive director of the AJC locally and formerly rabbi at Temple Solel, led the service, as in years past.

The AJC is a Jewish organization that is concerned with "much larger issues than just those that affect the Jewish community," Bell said. "AJC holds that what affects one community affects all communities."

Locally, Bell said, the AJC has made a greater concerted effort than any other Jewish organization to reach out to the Latino community, and the AJC locally and nationally counts comprehensive immigration reform as one of its top agenda items.

In an e-mail after the event, Valle del Sol Vice President of Philanthropic and Community Relations Carlos Galindo-Elvira pointed out that there have been numerous national articles on the growing ties between the Jewish and Latino communities lately. "In Phoenix," he wrote, "we have been bridging and expanding this unique relationship for years."

Throughout the seder itself, Bell highlighted cultural parallels: The Spanish word for "Passover," for example, is the same as the Spanish word for "Easter" - "Pascua." The unleavened bread and the wine are related to the eucharist, and the egg, which figures prominently in both Easter and Passover celebrations, is a symbol of both the continuity of life and of new life in many traditions.

The traditional seder meal, catered by Simply Scrumptious, began with matzah ball soup and ended with flourless baked treats; in between came gefilte fish, which prompted some puzzled expressions but was received mostly favorably by those who'd never tried it before, and roast chicken. Conversation covered a lot of ground, from cities of origin to current occupations to a discussion of what it means to give something up for Lent and how that tradition is not unlike the giving up of chametz during Passover.

"Each year, I am continually amazed at the level of response and enthusiasm by individuals in the community that want to be invited to the Latino-Jewish Seder," wrote Galindo-Elvira. "We get calls all year around with inquiries on the date. We're already getting them for next year's event."

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