Mixing cultures

AJC board member Berry Sweet (front row center) poses with some participants of Valle del Sol's Hispanic Leadership Institute at the AJC Latino-Jewish seder.

The Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center saw its first seder in 60 years on March 30, when it was the host of American Jewish Committee's seventh annual Latino-Jewish Seder.

The center, located in Phoenix, was built as a synagogue and later housed a Chinese-speaking Baptist church and a Spanish-speaking Baptist church. Pictures of seders from more than half a century ago decorated the walls.

As the seder began, Lawrence Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society (AZJHS) - the organization that purchased the facility in 2002 and recently restored it - said that AZJHS was honored to host the event because of the building's Jewish and Latino roots.

Bell said that events like the Latino-Jewish Seder were "what the building was intended to do."

Some of the more nontraditional aspects of the seder, led by Rabbi Maynard Bell, were that comparisons were made between Passover and Easter, and the seder's Haggadah had the four questions written in Ladino. Four members of the Hispanic community read the four questions.

Hortenica Garcia, one of the Valle del Sol Hispanic Leadership Institute students who participated in the event, said she "couldn't believe the similarities with her culture."

Nestor Guzman, vice president of AZJHS, explained that because of its history, the building is "open to all religions, all cultures - to everyone."

According to Carlos Galindo-Elvira, vice president of philanthropic and community relations of Valle del Sol, one of the reasons for the event is "to build a stronger relationship between the Latino and Jewish communities."

Berry Sweet, secretary of the board of the Arizona chapter of the AJC, said, "For those fortunate enough to participate, our Latino-Jewish Seder presents the AJC a unique opportunity to celebrate with vibrant, young, emerging Hispanic leaders, our shared commitment to human rights, religious freedom and tolerance.

Sweet said the evening is a reminder that the Latino and Jewish communities "can and will continue to work together to repair the world."

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