HUNTINGDON - Jews, Christians and Muslims shared a meal at Juniata College Wednesday night.
It was no ordinary meal.
Students, faculty, staff and friends were participating in the ninth annual Freedom Seder in Ellis Hall and hosted by the Juniata College Hillel.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) During the Freedom Seder at Juniata College, students taste parsley dipped in salt water. It is known as the Karpas on a Seder plate and is symbolic of the renewal of life. The salt water represents the tears of all people who have suffered oppression. Waiting to dip his parsley in the salt water is Sarang Mangi, an exchange student from Pakistan, while Wyatt Hall, a senior, watches.
The Jewish student organization invited three other groups on campus to contribute to the Seder, which differs from the traditional one.
At a Seder, which Jews worldwide will hold Monday night to signify the beginning of the eight-day Passover, the story focuses on the night the Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery 3,500 years ago.
While remembering that Passover night, the Freedom Seder also reflects on the oppression of different groups in the world throughout history. The Seder plate with its elements, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, was the centerpiece on every table. Yet, it differed from the traditional plate. It was missing the shank bone, parsley replaced a fresh vegetable and an orange was added.
The orange represented a commitment to the inclusion of women, gays and lesbians in the battle against oppression. It is symbolic of a story that in response to demands that women be rabbis, a male rabbi said, "A woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit] like an orange on a Seder plate."
Participation in the Seder was inclusive with three other student-led groups giving readings in the Haggadah, a narrative of the Exodus story and the Seder ritual.
Jonathan B. Keeney, moderator for the Brethren Student Fellowship, read New Testament Scriptures on loving others, including enemies, and Airokhsh Faiz Qaisary, president of the Muslim Student Association, read the poem "All Through Eternity" by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi. The African-American Student Alliance was represented by Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise."
The student groups also contributed food for the meal that served between 80 and 90 people.
"It's really a great way to celebrate freedom from oppression," said Brittany Friedman, president of Hillel and a junior at Juniata College.
Friedman of Bordentown, N.J., said the Seder allows the small Jewish population on campus to connect and to get acquainted with other groups.
"It's educational and spreads the word about Judaism," she said, adding a lot of misconceptions exist about the faith, including that Jews do not believe in God. She thinks that misconception may be because Jews believe in God but not a triune God.
For Amy Rubin, vice president of Hillel and a senior, the Freedom Seder is important because of her Jewish heritage, and it gives the Jewish students an opportunity to share their faith traditions and be a presence on campus.
By involving other student-led groups to be part of the Seder, students from different traditions have an opportunity to develop relationships, said Rubin of Hillsborough, N.J.
The three groups invited to help with the Seder vary from year to year.
Keeney of Chicago said it was his first Seder.
"I appreciate the solidarity with other religious groups on campus," he said, adding that the freedom from oppression theme is one he celebrates, as well.
Qaisary of Afghanistan said by helping another religion club, the groups show unity.
Leila Terrab, also of the Muslim Student Association, said the Seder allows different groups to come together and learn about another religion.
Throughout the Seder, the group reflected on past oppression and considered present-day oppressions.
Ten Modern Plagues were substituted for the Ten Plagues sent by God to the Egyptians to help end slavery of the Israelites. The modern plagues include apathy, lack of universal education, not meeting basic needs, pollution, denial of human rights, disease, extremes of poverty and wealth, societal intolerance, ravages of war and misuse of technology.
Nathan Deitcher, a freshman from Philadelphia and member of Hillel, said the Seder had a multicultural element to it, and he appreciated the intermixing of faiths.
Hadir Kaoubi, a Muslim exchange student from Tunisia, said she came to the Seder because she wanted to know more about the Jewish faith.
The Rev. Dave Witkovsky, chaplain for Juniata College and co-adviser for Hillel, said, "I love these kind of events. They are open and inviting and educational, as well."
Anne Gilman, co-adviser of Hillel and a professor of psychology, said the Seder provides an opportunity for Jewish students to think about the traditions they have done since they were children and perhaps gives them a new perspective.
She said faculty and staff who have attended in the past have given her positive feedback.
"The student leaders create something that is meaningful to the community," she said.