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Jewish Journal

Abraham’s ‘Children’ Connect at Seder

by David Finnigan

May 5, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Interfaith Passover seder participants dine in a banquet hall at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The April 29 seder grew out of an 11-day interfaith trip to Israel and the West Bank in February.

Interfaith Passover seder participants dine in a banquet hall at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The April 29 seder grew out of an 11-day interfaith trip to Israel and the West Bank in February.

Rare is the Passover seder that includes an Islamic call to prayer. But in the middle of this interfaith celebration, Muslim guests excused themselves momentarily from the third-floor banquet hall of Wilshire Boulevard Temple to pray in the hallway outside.

Jews in attendance watched curiously, but respectfully. The Muslims then returned to the seder, where they participated curiously, and just as respectfully.

The symbolism was not lost on temple member Eric Ritter.

"I see all these smiling faces trying to bridge the divide," said Ritter, a city planner accompanied by his wife, Nancy, and their 19-year-old son, Zack. "I just like the idea that my temple is trying to reach out to the Islamic community, and they in turn are reciprocating."

Last week, Ritter was among some 80 people, about evenly split between Muslims and Jews, at "A Seder for Our Time: The Children of Abraham Celebrate Passover."

Jointly sponsored by the temple and the Islamic Center of Southern California, the April 29 event grew out of an 11-day interfaith trip to Israel and the West Bank in February. That trip brought together 14 Christians, 15 Muslims and 15 Jews.

Less than three months later, the seder, organized by Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, gathered some of the same group again. The 28-page, customized haggadah incorporated interfaith candle-lighting Jewish rituals as well as a Muslim perspective. One passage stated, "In ancient days, Pharaoh was evil to all his subjects, whether Israelite or not."

The script also broadened the interpretation of the parsley on the seder plate.

"When I look at parsley," said a Muslim speaker, "I'm reminded of the beauty of the earth. Allah has created a world in which plants nourish our bodies and delight our eyes."

The haggadah, in its discussion of narrow spaces, also spoke to the experience of Muslims in post-Sept. 11 America, where innocent Muslims have frequently been treated as outsiders or even as the enemy.

Grape juice was substituted for wine out of deference to the Muslim guests, and the ritual hand-washing was compared to Muslims' preprayer cleansing with water.

Years of Israeli-Arab conflicts and tension between Islam and Judaism cannot be erased with shared visions and the power of parsley, but these participants were doing what they could.

"Maybe the little connections made here will have a rippling effect all the way to the Middle East, Israel and Palestine," Ritter said.

Dana Ostroff, one of the 15 Jews on the interfaith trip to Israel, said the entire traveling group "has really just stayed united. We didn't just co-exist, but we became a family."

Another guest was Victoria Blum, a Jew-by-choice. This seder was the first for Blum's 18-month-old daughter, Gia, whom Blum adopted in China.

"There's so much hope right now with what's going on in Israel," Blum said. "It's the first time you feel that peace could be reached."

Sudanese American Tony Budri, a Muslim, attended with his sister and their father.

"There is no disparity between us," said Budri, a 22-year-old student at UC Irvine. "We are all under one God. Maybe it's a different denomination, but the same basic rules. You can't really judge a religion by its followers, you judge it by its scripture."

Cairo physician Abd El Fattah Shawki came to the seder while visiting his daughter in Southern California.

Interfaith relations are very important, said the 78-year-old doctor. He pointed out that most people of faith in the Middle East "live in peace together, as believers."

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