UMass Amherst Jewish Affairs

Jewish Affairs

Jewish, Black communities unite
for 'Freedom Seder'

by Glen Straub
Massachusetts Daily Collegian
March 31, 2004

Two different peoples; two different stories; one concept threading everything together. While the cultures may differ and conflict has arisen between the two groups in the past, the people of Jewish and African descent have shared a similar history - one of diaspora.

Photo of 2004 Freedom Seder organizers at UMass Amherst

Rarely though have the two ostracized groups found a common ground on this historical notion. As a result, a potentially powerful relationship is not as strong as it could be. However, Sunday night, four on-campus organizations attempted to take a step towards unity.

On the top floor of the Campus Center, the Black Student Union, Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority, Office of Jewish Affairs and Student Affairs and Campus Life, unified a small but intrigued group of Jewish and Black University of Massachusetts students in their sixth annual Freedom Seder.

"Whenever people from different communities come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and friendship, the world becomes a better place," Larry Goldbaum, director of the office of Jewish Affairs, told a 45-person crowd seated at Seder plate decorated dinner tables. "The Torah—the Jewish Bible—teaches us to treat 'the stranger' in our midst as if she or he were a member of our family. In a very real sense, we are members of the same family."

Although the Seder plates used during dinner were somewhat similar to the traditional Jewish custom, with African-Americans and native Africans in the audience the content of the Freedom Seder strayed from the traditional.

The Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book used to direct the Seder, symbolized the atmosphere of the night. Normally filled with songs, prayers and stories of the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt in biblical times, the Freedom Seder Haggadah celebrated "unity and liberation."

Sprinkled with such Black liberation staples as "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (the Black National Anthem), rhymes from hip-hop's most socially conscious MC's, poetry from some of the most acclaimed Black writers and the song lyrics to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and "War," this Haggadah proved to be a new wave for intertwining two people histories that are strikingly similar.

The 45-minute long collaboratively-run Seder concluded with a scrumptious meal that included soul food like fried chicken and traditional Jewish food like noodle kugel.

Nia Taylor, a UMass student and member of the Freedom Seder 2004 Planning Committee, was pleased with how the night turned out. Taylor, who is of African-American and Jewish descent, said it best when she stated, "This is a great way to bring the two cultures together."

                                         [top of page]