UMass Amherst Jewish Affairs

Jewish Affairs

Students unite at Freedom Seder

By Lenny Holston and Elana Premack
Massachusetts Daily Collegian
April 23, 1999

Photo of organizers of the 1999 Freedom Seder at UMass Amherst

Apathy. Lack of universal education. Basic human needs that go unmet. Poisoning of our earth. Denial of human rights. Disease. Extremes of poverty and wealth. Social intolerance. Ravages of war. The misuse of technology.

Overcoming these ten modern plagues was the challenge facing more than 70 members of the campus community who gathered on April 22, 1999 to affirm their belief in equality. The Freedom Seder was a celebration of the freedom from oppression.

student leaders of the 1999 Freedom Seder at UMass Amherst

Organized by the Black Student Union (BSU), Jewish Student Union (JSU) and the Office of Jewish Affairs, the Freedom Seder took a traditional Jewish ritual and broadened its spectrum.

“We attempted to show the parallel history of our struggles,” said Dan Kapner, JSU vice president for social action and community service.

Crossing boundaries and making connections, BSU treasurer Cornelius Harris began the seder with the shehechianu, the Hebrew prayer said at an event taking place for the first time.

Working their way through the traditional seder, participants read poetry and stories of struggle and freedom, and enacted Jewish rituals.

participants at the UMass Freedom Seder

When the Jews were fleeing Egypt, they took their bread which did not have time to rise or leaven. Matzah—unleavened bread—is eaten during seders to commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery.

Traditionally, a piece of the middle matzah, called the afikomen, is hidden early in the seder for children to find. This is done for the children’s entertainment, but the seder can’t end until the afikomen is found [signifying that the world is again whole]. Fortunately, France, a 12-year-old African American girl, found the afikomen and won a prize.

Kolot, a Jewish acapella group, sang “Shir ha-Shalom” (Song of Peace), a poem read by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shortly before his assassination in November 1995. The group closed their performance by singing “Teva Medley.”

Following Kolot, the African American acapella group Nostalgia sang “Joy,” a song they said inspired them musically and emotionally. They also performed a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Love’s in Need.”

Photo of 1999 Freedom Seder at UMass Amherst

“We all have to connect,” said Nostalgia member Reymond Jourdan. “Connecting and communicating is the first step.”

“We want to have more of these dinners,” said JSU President Shira Hutt. “What we are trying to do is to broaden our awareness of different cultures, as well as have other cultures become more aware of us.”

Dr. Barbara Love led everyone in the song “This Little Light of Mine,” which featured a verse dedicated to the crisis in Kosovo. The night closed with the Wu-Tang Clan’s song “Never Again,” which graphically depicts the Holocaust and rebukes the atrocity.

“We need more events like this,” said Julie Zuckerman, the UMass Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow. “I wish more RSOs would get involved. This is a great jumping-off point. Many here tonight will now see that unity is possible.”

The haggadah, the book which details the order of the seder, ended with the quote: “There are only two lasting bequests that we can leave to our children: one is roots, the other one is wings.”

Last night’s seder seemed to represent the wings. “This is the foundation,” Kapner said, “This is day one of the solution.”

Editor’s note: Since this article was published in April 1999, the Freedom Seder has become an annual tradition at UMass Amherst. If you'd like to help organize a future
Seder, or some other program which would bring together students from diverse
communities, call Larry Goldbaum at the Office of Jewish Affairs, 413-545-9642.

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