The Black-Jewish Sedar

"It's easy for us to fall prey to the prejudices of others.
It's easy for us to become slaves to
hate and self-hate and resentment and desperation and isolation.
This seder offers

something different."


A group of teenagers at the Black-Jewish Sedar this April.


On April 11, 2000 six hundred people gathered at Temple Kehillath Israel to celebrate and discuss Freedom. There were Jewish and Black men, woman, boys, and girls from all parts of the Greater Boston area sitting together around seder tables to share their stories of journey from bondage to freedom. This Passover Seder marked the twentieth anniversary of the Black Jewish Passover Seder. The first of these Seders had a total of six people, and took place in an ordinary dining room. In twenty years this interfaith celebration has become one hundred times stronger. Rabbi Mark Sokoll, who was the emcee for the evening announced, "One voice can make a difference, six hundred voices can set us free."

While sitting together a tremendous sense of power and hope developed. It is no wonder that a special bond is formed between these two communities when an opportunity for sharing, teaching, and listening to stories, customs, and traditions is available. "Power Praise," an unbelievable gospel choir, sent chills through the audience with their performance of avadim haenu ("We Were Slaves in Egypt"). The Seder was organized in a way that both the traditional story of the Exodus from Egypt and the similarities between the struggle of Jews and Blacks were integrated. The well-known conflicts of the civil rights movement of the 1960's were told alongside the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. In the Passover haggadah Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. collaborates with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in a piece called "What Happens to Them Happens to Me." Another selection by Dr. King called "We are on the Move" appears later in the Haggadah. No Black Jewish Seder would be complete without mentioning the person who instigated the civil rights movement, namely Rosa Parks and her famous protest of the public transportation system. These great leaders all believed strongly, in the words of Rabbi Hamilton of Kehillath Israel, that "Freedom means we see infinite worth in every person."

Lenny Zakim lived by this definition. He was a pioneer of breaking the shackles of slavery and living a life full of love, truth, and most of all freedom. Because he lived with such a clear vision of what was distinctly right and just in this world, Lenny never lived a day in his life in bondage. Because of the life he lived, and the impact he had in helping communities come together and find value in each other. Lenny was presented with the "EYES ON THE PRIZE" award. Reverend Charles Stith, the current United States Ambassador to Tanzania, also received the award because of his efforts in creating the Black Jewish Seder with Lenny. As he presented the award Dick Glovsky, of the Anti-Defamation League, declared that "Lenny lived for the victim: those who are hungry, homeless, helpless."
Rabbi Mark Sokoll reminded the participants that Lenny did an unbelievable amount of work, but that there is even more work to still be done. He said, "I want to feel free, but I donšt yet feel free. We are half way there, twenty years!" Rabbi Sokoll used the metaphor of the forty-year journey of the Israelites through the Sinai desert to show that the relationship between Jews and Blacks in Boston is also undergoing a journey. Just as the Israelites did not become free until they reached their homeland, the journey to total companionship between the Jewish and Black communities will not be complete unless the efforts made by Lenny are continued throughout the generations. It was truly an amazing experience to see Jewish children smiling and embracing Black children while celebrating and enjoying a Passover Seder as I attended the sedar. Joyce Zakim, Lenny's wife, shared the true message of the evening while accepting the award for Lenny. "If we can sit and share our histories, we can dare to stand together." The Seder ended with the singing of "We Shall Overcome."