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Pre-Passover Seder promotes unity in Bloomfield Hills

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — Surrounded by many new faces Thursday evening, Pam Lasazen raised a toast to life, recited a Hebrew blessing and explored centuries of history.

The retired schoolteacher from Plymouth attended her first pre-Passover Seder — a ceremonial meal that traditionally launches the Jewish holiday memorializing how Israelites fled bondage in ancient Egypt.

Having been raised Catholic and now identifying as belonging to the Baha’i faith, she welcomed the chance to bond with a host of other spiritually minded Metro Detroiters who gathered at Temple Beth El.

“You should always consult with people from every religion,” Lasazen said while seated at the dinner. “I love to take joy in our similarities and learn from our differences and follow the Golden Rule.”

Uniting anchored the Seder, which comes before Jews officially start celebrating Passover on March 30 and was coordinated by Temple Beth El’s Rabbi B. Benedict and Ada S. Glazer Institute on Judaism, an interfaith dialogue forum launched in the 1940s.

The period’s themes — suffering, overcoming adversity — are universal, said Mark Miller, the synagogue’s rabbi.

“There’s not a person in this room who hasn’t had difficulties. There’s not a person who hasn’t gone through hard times, who has experienced things that are not fun,” he told more than 150 guests. “...But the eternal hope of the exodus is that no matter where we came from, no matter what our personal difficulties are, there is a road map of how to take that, ritualize it, learn from it and eventually make our way to a better place — which, yes, we call the promised land.”

Recognizing that transition, and relating it to the present, was a constant for the gathering sponsored by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, JCRC/AJC, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Anti-Defamation League.

Synagogue leaders and Rabbi Justus Baird, dean at the Auburn Theological Seminary of New York, led attendees through the prayers, songs and observances often found at Seders each year.

A diverse group circled black tables centered with a plate bearing items arranged and presented to evoke the ancient exodus.

They passed around square matzah, unleavened bread served to recall how, centuries ago, Jews escaped so fast they couldn’t let dough rise.

Other items evoke their state: an egg conjuring burnt offerings; an herb reminiscent of slavery’s bitterness; parsley representing spring and renewal; salt water, symbolizing tears.

Diners also shared pale bowls filled with a mixture of chopped apples, nuts and cinnamon suggesting bricks slaves produced in Egypt.

For Yvonne Moore, a licensed esthetician who has long joined interfaith efforts and calls some area Jews “my family,” the gathering was another way to build bridges.

“It’s very important for us to understand each other and get along and accept each other,” she said. “The more you know about somebody, the less you have preconceived notions.”

The sea of yarmulkes and parishioners from Christian congregations sharply contrasted with divisions nationwide, Baird said. “Tonight’s gathering is proof of the time of living in America when people from the widest spiritual backgrounds can come together with open hearts.”