A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Using the seder to celebrate freedom

 Lauren Levy 
By Lauren Levy

A Passover seder is traditionally about Jews’ freedom from slavery, but some campuses are using the seder to celebrate other people’s freedoms as well.

Northwestern University (NU) hosts an annual Black-Jewish Seder in order to connect Jews with another minority group that has suffered from persecution and injustice.

About 100 people attended NU’s fifth Black-Jewish Seder in April 2007. NU’s Hillel service group, Tzedek, planned the seder. They changed the Haggadah to make it more relevant to modern times, said one of the planners, junior Heather Langerman. The seder had the traditional seder plate and the meal served included soul food like kosher fried chicken.

“We wanted to look toward the future and have the two communities feel closer on campus,” Langerman said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to reach out, to learn something new, to meet new people and just to see the common bond that Jews and Blacks have because of the common history of enslavement and persecution.”

 Black Jewish Seder 
Students attend a black-Jewish seder at Northwestern.

NU senior Julian Hill planned and attended the seder. He said that it was a good opportunity for the two groups to work together.

“There isn’t a lot of interaction between the individual minority groups,” Hill said. “I figured we should support each other because a lot of times, we minority groups face similar problems.”

Another seder planner, NU junior Mara Botman, said she agrees that one can always learn something from another group of people. She added that one of the purposes of the seder was initiating discourse between the two groups.

“We aren’t that different, and it’s important to meet people even if they didn’t grow up in the same environment,” Botman said. “[The seder] wasn’t about bringing diverse people together, it was about starting structured conversations. Because we go to NU, we have similar endeavors.”

After working on the NU seder for three years, Hill said he still wants to create ways for minority groups to get to know each other and resolve their issues.

“Specifically with the Jewish and Black backgrounds, their similarities are obvious,” Hill said. “To bring different perspectives to the table is an important part of the college experience.”

Northeastern University in Boston also had its own Black-Jewish Seder in 2002 and in 2005, said Northeastern’s Hillel Director Beth Meltzer.

“It was gratifying to see everyone enjoying themselves and it was exciting to see that we pulled it off when we first did it,” Meltzer said. “It was really successful because people were talking about it for years after. It was something that I thought put Hillel on the map.”

For students who want to plan a Black-Jewish Seder on their own campuses, Meltzer advises to start early and to make connections right away.

“Talk with different student groups and find out what they would get out of it too,” Meltzer said. “You should have shared goals from the beginning.”

Posted: 10/22/2007 09:02:36 AM

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