This year while celebrating Passover, Erin and Cory Davids, a couple from Port Jefferson Station, took part in a national movement called 2 For Seder that encourages Jews to invite non-Jews into their homes for a traditional holiday meal to help counter antisemitism.
The Seder meal is a central part of the Passover holiday. Jews tell the story of their release from slavery in Egypt through the symbolism of food.
A bitter herb to remind them of the bitterness of slavery. A chopped mix of nuts and fruit stands in for the bricks Jews were forced to make for Pharaoh. A piece of parsley representing hope is then dipped in salt water to remind them of the tears of their ancestors in slavery.
As Jews recount the story of Exodus, the central theme of freedom emerges. It also deals with the consequences of blind hate of the “other” among us, people we don’t understand so we begin to fear them out of ignorance.
2 For Seder was borne out of a modern tragedy, and hopes to help both Jews and non-Jews alike achieve a level of understanding that will chip away at hate.
After she lost her mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, who was murdered during religious services in the horrific mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October, Marnie Fienberg wondered how she could help in some small way to prevent something like that from happening again.
Her idea was to fight antisemitism with familiarity.
That was the genesis of 2 For Seder.
The idea, according to the movement’s website, is for Jews to invite two people who have never attended a Seder to their home this Passover.
“For me, Seder is the heart of who we are as Jews,” explains Fienberg on her website.
If more people shared their Seder and the story of Passover from a Jewish perspective, it would demystifying the idea of otherness between religions, tearing down walls between people.
Rabbi Arron Benson from North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station said that the program builds understanding and relationships when they could just as easily be consumed with hate.
“And it is so simple an idea — invite two non-Jews to Seder, that’s so easy and yet revolutionary for building connections between people.”
This is something that the Davids, North Shore Jewish Center congregants, actually understand very well.
“The first time we heard about it was from the Rabbi in an email to congregants,” said Cory Davids. “I think when he first sent it out we looked at it and we said we kind of do this anyway.”
The Davids both had grown up trying to share their religion with their non-Jewish neighbors and friends.
Erin Davids said that while she has heard Jewish jokes told around her, she is lucky to never have experienced a strong sentiment of antisemitism in her life.
She wasn’t sure if she did come across someone who was extremely anti-semitic if she would invite them into her home. But, in college at Syracuse her roomate had grown up in small town and never really met anyone who was Jewish.
“I taught her a lot about the Jewish culture,” she said.
They even celebrated Passover together in their dorm room.
Mr. Davids went to school in Florida and on his baseball team he became close with his teammates who were religious. He went to church with them on Easter Sunday and followed their prayers and rituals, learning about their religion.
He found his friends also reciprocated. In solidarity, one friend of his from New Jersey abstained from eating bread during Passover with him. (Eating leavened bread is forbidden during Passover.)
After a lifetime of sharing their culture and religion with others, the couple jumped at the opportunity to sign up for 2 For Seder and be counted.
“It was a no brainer for us,” said Mr. Davids.
They invited Robert Harris a friend of Mr. Davids from work to join them for his first Seder along with his daughter.
According to the 2 For Seder website over 900 people registered to participate in 2 For Seder across the U.S. and Canada, with 121 in New York State alone.
The Davids say that their non-Jewish guests enjoy the education they get as the follow the Haggadah, a sort of guidebook that relates how to run a Seder and the stories that are told about the events that led to the creation of the holiday.
“I find a way to educate as much as possible,” said Mr. Davids.
One thing he said people always find interesting is when he tells them that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder.
Fienberg says that this type of understanding is needed now more than ever.
She cites the Anti-Defamation League as saying hate crimes are on the rise across the U.S. and that the FBI says more than half of the religion-based hate crimes are directed against Jews and Jewish institutions.
“If you walk beside me as I’m taking that journey each year, if you walk beside me tonight, then you will really have a bit of insight about what it means, to me, to be Jewish,” she told NPR in an interview.
Rabbi Benson praised the Davids for their commitment to both the 2 For Seder movement and North Shore Jewish Center.
“It makes you feel like you’re doing something right when people like them want to join your synagogue.”
Mr. Davids said that his coworker loved attending his first Seder, especially as family members helped him understand what was going on.
“He said you can have me every year.”
Photo: Cory Davids (left) with Robert Harris (right) celebrate Passover together. (Credit: Erin Davids)