Christians, Muslims and Jews to Gather for Interfaith Passover Seder

By Lindsay Armstrong on April 16, 2014 10:13am 

 Christians, Muslims and Jews will gather at the Park Avenue Christian Church for an Interfaith Seder.
Christians, Muslims and Jews will gather at the Park Avenue Christian Church for an Interfaith Seder.
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DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

Upper East Side — Upper East Side religious leaders are hoping that breaking bread together — the unleavened kind — will help to break down barriers between New Yorkers of different religions.

Christians, Muslims and Jews will gather at an Interfaith Peace Seder, the ritual meal that marks the beginning of Passover, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Park Avenue Christian Church. The building is home to both a Christian congregation and Da’at Elohim: The Temple of Universal Judaism.

“I have friends from all three religions, and there are so many misunderstandings,” said Kevin Costa, the event’s lead organizer. “A Seder is a great way to bring people together and for people to see each other as people instead of as the other with much more in common than not.”

Costa was inspired in part by an interfaith Seder that he attended in college. While that event included only Jewish and Christian guests, Costa wanted to extend this one to Muslims, as well.

He reached out to representatives of Park 51, an Islamic community center and mosque, who helped him organize the event.

Atif Sial, Park 51’s director of development, said this is the first Seder in New York Ctiy he knows of to include all three faiths. Sial noted that outreach to other faith communities is part of Park 51’s vision.

“One of our goals is to educate people about Muslim Americans and what that practice means — to show people that Muslims also respect other people’s religions,” he said.

Rabbi Ari Fridkis of the Da-at Elohim congregation will lead participants in the Seder. The meal will include traditional elements such as bitter herbs, which represents the bitterness of the Jews’ enslavement in Egypt, and charoset, a dish made with apples, nuts and honey.

There will also be some changes made to appeal to an interfaith audience.

In addition to readings from the Haggadah, the sacred work that contains the story of the Israeli exodus from Egypt, the rabbi may also read from passages of the Quran and Bible that reference Passover. The organizers will serve grape juice rather than wine, which plays a central role in the Seder meal, because alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic faith.   

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which includes Russell Simmons as a board member and has a program that focuses on Muslim-Jewish relations, is the other main sponsor of the event.

“This Seder is a logical extension of the work we do, twinning Rabbis and Imams and organizing people of different ethnicities to do community service projects,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the foundation. “It is through these face-to-face encounters that people of different creeds, ethnicities and races can better understand each other.”

The organizers hope to make this Seder the first of many interfaith events. Ultimately, they hope that 15 percent of all Muslims and Jews and Christians will know someone who has attended an Interfaith Seder.

“It is the early adopter theory of social change — when 15 percent of a population changes their opinion about something, the conversation changes,” Costa said. “If the conversation changes in New York, it can change the conversation everywhere.”

There are still about 30 seats available for the event, which is open to the public. Donations will be accepted at the door.

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