In Metro area, Passover a reflection of turbulent times

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The themes of Passover — oppression, displacement, a search for freedom — are unforgettable for Jews who annually observe the holiday that recalls their ancestors’ liberation from bondage in Egypt eons ago.

But this year, as they join loved ones for Seders and other rituals during the eight-day holy period that starts at sunset Monday, some see the same plight marring the present.

Efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to curb illegal immigration as well as limit travelers and refugees from Muslim-majority countries are pushing Metro Detroit followers to overhaul observances to reflect the times.

“This is a particularly poignant holiday, coming at a particularly meaningful time,” said Jeffrey Falick, humanistic rabbi at the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills. “So as far as I’m concerned, any Jew who celebrates this Seder this year without being able to see also the face of a Syrian child, or the face of a South or Central American immigrant, or a woman or man being separated by ICE from their family — you’re missing the whole point. ... And the point is that this is meant to urge us to action.”

On Saturday, the group Detroit Jews for Justice, which seeks racial and economic justice, heeds that call.

To be held at the city’s Red Door Digital, “Let My People In: Refugee Voices and the Music of Daniel Kahn” features a contemporary telling of liberation stories as well as songs. Proceeds benefit the Syrian American Rescue Network, a nonprofit that offers humanitarian and economic support to refugees entering Michigan.

Uniting for such a cause is “critical in allowing our communities to find the kind of sustainable energy to really look at what’s happening and face it and commit to working on it,” said Rabbi Alana Alpert, the Detroit Jews for Justice director.

Meanwhile, confronted with demonstrations and social justice-related issues in the Trump era, Alpert and a colleague recently recorded a revised version of “Dayenu,” a traditional song recited during Passover.

The title can mean “It would have been enough” and the lyrics reference acknowledging gifts God granted Jews. Alpert’s update encourages activists to accept the scope of their pursuits, even if they cannot reach each march or protest.

“The only way we’re going to survive this onslaught, this completely overwhelming amount of resistance that we are being called to, is by telling ourselves ‘it’s enough’ at a certain point,” the Congregation T’chiyah rabbi said.

For Birmingham Temple members, satisfaction arrives through action to help others. Attendees practice humanistic Judaism, which combines Jewish customs with humanism: a focus on reason, ethics and social justice rather than a supernatural authority, Falick said.

Disturbed by intensified government measures to target undocumented immigrants, synagogue officials this year passed a resolution declaring the site a sanctuary for those fearing deportation. They have also supported human service-oriented groups such as Freedom House, which aids those seeking asylum, Falick said.

True to their beliefs, congregants on Tuesday plan to host a humanistic Seder beseeching participants to remember an estimated 65 million people displaced people and refugees.

“We’re very concerned with human dignity, human courage and human suffering. And all that is part of the traditional Passover story,” said Charles Paul, a board member. “The core of the story is not totally dissimilar to what’s happening right now in several parts of the world.”

An interfaith Seder also is planned this week at a home in Oakland County.

It emerged from a newly launched local chapter for the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a group that links Muslim and Jewish women to combat prejudice. The so-called “Woodward Corridor” arm hosting the Seder is among several that formed in Metro Detroit after the 2016 presidential election, co-founder Alicia Chandler said.

Though starting such a group was long a goal for many in the interfaith community, reports of attacks on Muslims “made it more imperative that we act now,” said Chandler, a vice president of the JCRC/AJC. “There’s really been a real grassroots desire within the communities to know each other.”

To that end, the upcoming home Seder is drawing Muslim and Jewish women of all ages in Chandler’s chapter to share a spread abounding with traditional dishes, charoset, gefilte fish, as well as gluten-free items and grape juice to meet everyone’s dietary restrictions. The service also incorporates both Hebrew and Arabic.

Nabiha Hashmi, a Muslim medical student from Troy, is eager to meet like-minded peers seeking to build bridges.

“I don’t think we’re going to change anything worldwide, but I think it’s important on this small-scale level to start reaching out to as many different communities as you can,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate we have these large-scale things happening affecting your relationship with your neighbors and community. But on a positive note, those kind of circumstances have led our communities to reach out to each other in these beautiful ways.”