Wednesday, April 6, 2011
This past Thursday, my husband and I went to an extraordinarily unusual (for me) event--a Seder at a black synagogue on the south side of Chicago: Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. This is an annual event, hosted jointly by the synagogue and the Chicago Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. The photo above does not portray any of the rabbis from Beth Shalom who helped to lead the Seder, but I do like that photo, the way it unites these seemingly diverse threads.
This Seder was marvelously incongruous--the black rabbis, the funky-rock versions of "Mah Tovu" and "Go Down Moses" with electric guitars and conga drums but the familiar version of the Four Questions and "Dayenu," and of course, the familiar story of the Exodus and the various foods and rituals (the dipping and so forth).
This Seder was also explicitly political--with references to immigration issues in Chicago, and the incarceration and hopelessness among black youth, and the plague of foreclosures in the synagogue's neighborhood. We even had a water main break down the street, so we had to rush to finish the Seder because the water was to be turned off at 8:00 (we didn't finish by 8, and the water was not turned off, but we did see the workers and trucks down the street).
I loved the rocking music, and I admired the energy and voice of the young rabbi as he called out for new Moseses to come forward. I also enjoyed thinking of the four cups of wine as a progression toward community and liberation, each one a named stage in that process.
As with all Seders, parts of it were boring and/or chaotic. But overall, it was enormously mind-expanding, as I had to keep reminding myself that these people were Jewish, pushing past assumptions, pushing past my own internal limitations. I kept thinking about my old-world, orthodox bubba and zeda, and how this group and this experience would have looked to them. And I believe that from now on, I'll think and think again before I say to myself or anyone else, "Funny, s/he doesn't look Jewish."