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Museum Musings

4.16.16 Another Date with Bitter Herbs and Charoset

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Najeebah Beyah, Tr'Zur Corbin, and Yvesner Ferdinand with Dr. GreenIt’s April.  I’m Jewish.  I’m a college professor.  It’s the final three weeks of the semester; it’s two weeks before Pesach. Oy! I’m exhausted.  So on Wednesday, April 13, during my 40-mile commute to work I ask: why am I making myself so crazy taking on yet another thing to do in April tonight?  I do so because I’m taking students to the Freedom Seder - a genuine oasis of joy and inspiration smack in the middle of one of the two most hectic months of my year (don’t even get me started about September!). 

 

For the fourth time, students from my Intergroup and Ethnic Relations course are to tour NMAJH and participate in the Freedom Seder.  After the umpteenth text and phone call to finalize carpools, we are finally touring the museum with a docent echoing much of the same information I shared with the class about Jewish immigrants.  And now my students are witnessing the maps and documents in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and other languages that reveal the challenges, the pain, the suffering and the joy.  Laborers at sewing machines, the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the lynching of Leo Frank, and Henry Ford speak to my students through faded photographs and memorabilia.  From swastikas and propaganda we proceed to the visceral moment of Martin Luther King and Rabbi Avraham Heschel arm-in-arm.  Everyone is quiet.

 

We enter the Seder.  My students are still processing what they have learned and are a bit anxious to be in this unfamiliar space.  But there is music playing.  A woman at the table stands up to greet us.  We sit. We listen. We talk bitter herbs and charoset. We discuss the bitter and the sweet and the commandment to remember both.  We eat, we clap, we sing.

 

So why do I add this event to my overstuffed April calendar? I do so because I teach at Cheyney University, the first historically black college in the U.S. and this is the very first Seder for my students. At this Seder I get to share what is so very familiar to me, enabling others to better understand my history and some major tenements of my faith.  We find our commonalities.

 

My student Najeebah answered this question better than I:  I learned that hate is truly caused by ignorance. You cannot hate another race or culture once you understand their past.

 

And that is what the Freedom Seder is all about.

 

 

-Lynn H. Green, PhD

Associate Professor of Sociology

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

6.22.16 Reaffirmed Aspirations

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