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Durban Cries Freedom

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The Durban Jewish community held their Freedom Seder on March 15 with representatives from the Jewish, Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities
by LAUREN SHAPIRO | Mar 29, 2018

During Pesach Jews celebrate the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt 3 300 years ago. Each year, we read and remember the liberation process, as if we are being freed. It begins with the entreaty: “Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.”

In 1969, on the third night of Pesach, a very special Seder was held in the basement of a black church in Washington DC to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. About 800 people – Jewish and Christian, black and white – took part. It was dubbed The Freedom Seder, and soon became a model for adaptations all around the world, including South Africa.

“The Freedom Seder for me is a celebration of our freedom from racism, our freedom from xenophobia, our freedom from anti-Semitism, our freedom from corruption, and our freedom to pray,” said Jeremy Droyman, president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (KwaZulu-Natal Council) on welcoming the guests. “In South Africa we have the most amazing freedom. It is for this reason that we need to come together to protect our freedom.”

This was followed by a crash course in Jewish history for those guests not familiar with the biblical story of Passover. This took the form of a YouTube video of hand puppets lampooning Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody set in ancient Egypt, complete with its famous electric guitar-slamming bridge.

(Find it at: www.aish.com/h/pes/mm/Passover_Rhapsody.html)

An abbreviated Haggadah, created especially for the occasion, got the guests talking, which is ultimately one of the aims of any Seder. Reverend Gilad Friedman of the Umhlanga Jewish Centre led the crowd in further thought-provoking questions such as: “Does feeling free make you free?”, “Does society contribute to your freedom?” and “Is religion a framework for us to be free?”

Between courses of parsley and salt water, maror and charoset, soup and kneidlach, delegates from various faiths shared their thoughts of what freedom means to them.

“We have to make people realise that freedom means not only liberty, but also responsibility,” said Pundit Barath of Religions for Peace. “Freedom and responsibility are twin aspects of citizenship. When responsibility comes to us, our freedom will be much richer.”

Sheikh Saleem Banda of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth declared: “Freedom is a living value for every human being. Our freedom is governed by the teachings of G-d the Almighty. We all have the ability to change this country today.”

Speaking on behalf of Nazareth Baptist Church, preacher Musa Khomo said: “To be able to pray in my language is to be free. To be able to observe the Sabbath is freedom to me.”

Chazan Yaron Kalmonowitz of the Durban United Hebrew Congregation delighted the crowd with traditional Seder songs, and by the end of the evening even non-Jewish guests were enthusiastically joining in the chorus of “Da-da-yenu”.

Rabbi Hillel Avidan of the Durban Progressive Jewish Congregation concluded with a midrash about G-d chastising the angels for joining in the Children of Israel’s song of triumph over the Egyptians. “We’re all G-d’s children,” he explained. “We spill wine when recounting the 10 plagues to lessen our joy. We cannot be truly joyful nor truly free while other human beings suffer.”

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