UMass Amherst Religious and Spiritual Life

Religious and Spiritual Life at UMass Amherst
Photo of Chapel on UMass Amherst campus

Freedom Seder

A celebration of liberation, multicultural unity,
and interfaith understanding


If you missed our 16th Annual Freedom Seder on April 7, 2014, please join us for our 17th annual celebration of multicultural and interfaith unity, in April 2015 (exact date TBA). Watch this website for details.

2014 Freedom Seder organizers


The Freedom Seder is a multicultural and interfaith celebration based on the Exodus themes of the Jewish Passover Seder, but commemorating the Civil Rights Movement and other modern liberation struggles. (It is not a Passover Seder!)

Through ritual, stories, poetry, and music, we learn about each other's history, culture, and traditions, and express our yearning for the liberation of all people.

People of all religious and cultural backgrounds are always welcome.

The 2014 Freedom Seder was dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The program was organized by students from the Muslim Students Association, Black Student Union, Hillel, Baha'i Club, and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, with support from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

After the formal program, participants enjoyed an international buffet dinner and musical performance by Moonlight Davis and his band.

FREE for UMass and Five-College students, staff, faculty and their families.

For more information, please contact Larry Goldbaum in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, goldbaum@umass.edu.

2012 Freedom Seder organizers
2012 Freedom Seder organizing committee


Our 15th Annual Freedom Seder took place on Monday, April 8, 2013.

As always, we were honored to have people of all religious and cultural backgrounds at this uplifting event!!

After the formal program (which lasted about an hour), we shared a delicious international buffet dinner and enjoyed a live musical performance by Moonlight Davis and his band, who by the end had many of us up and dancing!

As always, we did our best to accommodate the religious dietary requirements of observant Muslims and Jews. Glatt Kosher meals were available for Orthodox Jews; and Hallal lamb was used in one of the entrees (Central Asian "Plov").

To learn more about this extraordinary event, scroll down and keep reading!

Photos from previous Freedom Seders, from 1999 to the present

The 2012 Freedom Seder (on April 2, 2012) featured an international buffet dinner and live musical performance by Moonlight Davis and company. As part of our celebration, we enjoyed a delicious international buffet dinner and live musical performance featuring Moonlight Davis and his band.

The international buffet dinner was prepared by students in Hospitality & Tourism Management 457, and featured dishes from the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas (including vegetarian options and a Moroccan dish made with Hallal lamb). Glatt Kosher meals were available by prior request.

The 2012 program was organized by the Black Student Union, Muslim Students Association, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Baha'i Club, and Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

Egyptian pro-democracy rally 2011

The event had special significance last year (April 7, 2011), as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries of the Middle East were fighting for liberation from their modern Pharaohs... a remarkable parallel to the biblical story commemorated in the Freedom Seder.

The 2011 Freedom Seder was sponsored by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Black Student Union, Jewish Student Union, Muslim Students Association, and the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Our 12th annual Freedom Seder (held on 4/8/10) included an extraordinary musical performance featuring George Moonlight Davis singing R&B, Gospel, and Jewish and African American Spirituals. It was an event not to be missed!! The 2010 Freedom Seder was sponsored by the Office of Jewish Affairs (now the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life), Black Student Union, Muslim Students Association, Jewish Student Union, and the Newman Students Association.

Freedom Seder "Hall of Fame" Student Organizers 1999-2008

Our 11th annual Freedom Seder (on 4/2/09) featured, for the first time, an international buffet dinner prepared by the students in Hospitality & Tourism Management 457.

Our 2008 Freedom Seder, the tenth, was also very special. It commemorated and honored the students who created and sustained this great tradition. Thank you!!

Freedom Seder "Hall of Fame"
organizing committees 1999–2011


The Freedom Seder is a ritualized celebration of multicultural and interfaith unity, based on the Exodus themes of the Passover Seder, a ceremonial dinner marking the beginning of this week-long spring festival celebrated by Jews around the world. The ceremony gives voice to our desire for all people to be free from slavery and other forms of oppression.

While the Passover Seder commemorates
the redemption of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt, its themes resonate with
the historical experience of many peoples.
Thus the Freedom Seder commemorates
the experience of all people who have been enslaved, exiled or otherwise oppressed,
while praying for the unity and liberation of all people.

The Passover Seder reminds Jews of our own experience of slavery and redemption by retelling the biblical story of Exodus using various ritual foods such as bitter herbs, roasted eggs, salt water, unleavened bread or matzoh, and four cups of wine (or grape juice).

The Freedom Seder builds on the themes of Passover to commemorate the experience of African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims and other communities who have experienced oppression in the course of their own history. It culminates with a cultural program and buffet dinner, with foods chosen by the student organizers to represent their diverse cultures.

Participants at 1999 Freedom Seder

The goals of the Freedom Seder are to:

• Reconnect to our own historical experience of slavery, exile and redemption;

• Learn about the experience of other peoples by listening to their stories as told in their own voices, and thereby build bridges between our diverse communities;

• Reaffirm our commitment to challenging and overcoming oppression and embracing freedom and redemption for all people;

• Affirm the common humanity of all people.

1999 Freedom Seder organizers

Originally a collaboration between the Black Student Union (BSU), the Jewish Student Union (JSU), and the Office of Jewish Affairs, the 1999 Freedom Seder revived a tradition that had lain dormant for several years.

Photo of the 1999 Freedom Seder organizing committee: Nikan Hodjat, Cornelius Harris, Dan Kapner, Teeomm Williams, Hannah Braune, Nicole Patton, Jonathan Goldman, Malika Tafawa, Larry Goldbaum.

A graduate assistant in the Office of Jewish Affairs, Teeomm Williams (in photo below), worked tirelessly to recreate the Freedom Seder in Spring 1999 and ensure its continuation in subsequent years. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Teeomm, along with a dedicated group of students from the BSU, JSU and, beginning in 2001, the Delta Xi Phi multicultural sorority, for their leadership and hard work on this program!

Freedom Seder organizer Teeomm Williams

We've continued to nurture the relationships that grew out of that initial collaboration—for example, hosting a visit by BSU and JSU members to an exhibition on African American and Jewish history at the University Gallery in October 1999.
(See Bridges and Boundaries)

More recently (beginning in 2007), the Muslim Students Association also got involved. So there is now participation by all three Western religions descended from Abraham.

The cordial relationships formed among the Seder’s organizers and participants represent a dramatic turnaround from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the relationship between African American and Jewish students in particular was characterized by distrust and overt hostility—one of the reasons the Office of Jewish Affairs was created in 1995.

In June 2000, OJA director Larry Goldbaum presented a new workshop, Celebrating Unity and Liberation: The Freedom Seder as an Antidote to Black/Jewish Conflict at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE). The following year, Jewish and African American students from the Seder organizing committee co-presented the workshop with Goldbaum at NCORE in Seattle, cementing an already-strong friendship.


To learn more...

Freedom Seder booklets from previous years
View or download Freedom Seder booklets (Haggadot) for every year since 1999, when this annual tradition was established at UMass Amherst. These are the booklets of songs, poems and other readings which we read at the Freedom Seder.


The Freedom Seder: A Bridge Across Ethnic, Cultural, and Religious Divides
by Larry Goldbaum (Journal of College and Character, May 2012)
"The Freedom Seder is a multicultural and interfaith celebration based on the Exodus themes of the Passover Seder. Conceived during the Civil Rights Movement, this ritualized program has been used successfully to build bridges between diverse communities at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (and elsewhere). This article provides insight into how the Freedom Seder can be used on other campuses to bridge ethnic, cultural and religious divides, while providing a meaningful opportunity for interfaith dialogue about issues of social justice." (The full article can be downloaded from the Journal's website, which may only be available to NASPA members. Contact us directly if you would like to read the article and can't access it online.)

Celebrating Unity and Liberation: The Freedom Seder as an Antidote
to Black/Jewish Conflict
(pdf, 8pp, 28kb)
... a workshop presented by Larry Goldbaum, director of the Office of Jewish Affairs,
at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE).

The workshop syllabus includes:
* a historical overview of Black/Jewish relations in the U.S. and at UMass Amherst;
* a discussion of the shared themes of the Passover and Freedom Seders;
* the challenges involved in organizing such a program;
* bibliography for further study.


Newspaper and television coverage:

Pass It On: Freedom Seder (Guideposts, April 2007)
Guideposts is an interfaith magazine with eight million readers.

PBS "Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly" (PBS 4/22/05)

Jewish, Black communities unite for 'Freedom Seder' (Collegian 3/31/04)

Students unite at Freedom Seder (Collegian 4/23/99)


Over the years, numerous organizations have been involved with the UMass Freedom Seder. These include:

Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (OR&SL)
Office of Jewish Affairs (incorporated into the new OR&SL in Fall 2010)
Black Student Union
Jewish Student Union
Muslim Students Association
Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. (UMass Amherst chapter)
Newman Students Association
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship



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