Thursday, April 1, 2004

Celebration unites religions, cultures in single purpose

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

Ryan Youkilis (left), 10, reads The Four Questions as Rabbi Gary Zola, a professor at Hebrew Union College, holds the microphone during Cincinnati Chapter's Intergroup Seder held Wednesday at the Isaac M. Wise Temple/Plum Street Temple downtown.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GARY LANDERS
For Christians, Jews and Muslims, the story of Moses and the Jews' Exodus from slavery in Egypt is a common history.

On Wednesday, more than 170 people from different religious and cultural backgrounds shared a Jewish expression of that story through a Seder, a meal celebrated on the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover. This year, Passover begins Monday at sundown.

"It is not only a holiday that all of us can relate to religiously. In addition to that, the underlying themes of Passover are themes we, as Americans, can relate to, like freedom," said Rabbi Gary Zola, who led the American Jewish Committee Cincinnati Chapter's 11th annual Intergroup Seder. "It's so uplifting to see this many people come together to break bread and celebrate freedom."

Zola, a professor at Hebrew Union College, led the crowd, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in the sometimes complicated ritual of the Seder, reciting prayers in both Hebrew and English, singing Hebrew songs and those more multi-religious, such as "Go Down Moses."

People drank sparkling grape juice, used in place of wine, dipped parsley into salt water to taste the tears of the Israelite slaves, broke matzah together and tasted bitter herbs - all parts of the traditional Seder meal.

"I came to get an understanding of another faith. I'm a born-again Christian, but I liked understanding the religious significance of another faith's holiday, especially because Christianity came out of Judaism," said Sandra Hall, 45, of Kenwood, who attended this year for the first time. "I read the Bible daily, and to hear the history of the Exodus from a different perspective was wonderful."

Carol Rucker, 51, of Northside, attended the event last year and was inspired to come back again.

"All the rituals and the prayers, they're common to everyone. It's talking about freedom and slavery," said Rucker, who attended with other women from the Sarah Center, a division of St. Francis Seraph Ministries in Over-the-Rhine.

For Jack Rose, a deacon at Calvary Episcopal Church in Clifton, the most important part of the ritual meal is a prayer for peace at the end.

"Peace for us! For everyone!" the group said near the end of the gathering.

"It's a request that reminds us of how much we do have in common," Rose said.


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