Sharing Passover Seder

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Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), the quintessential illustrator of the common man, is best remembered for capturing on canvas an array of slice-of-life tableaus of 20th Century Americana. "Golden Rule," perhaps his most socially-conscious creation, graced the cover of the April 1, 1961 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, a date which fell right between the start of Passover (March 31st) and the celebration of Easter (April 2nd) that year.

This evocative group portrait seamlessly blended a spectrum of expressive, yet unpretentious faces, heads bowed, all ostensibly partaking in a silent multi-denominational moment of prayer. Rockwell’s powerful picture envisioned this country as a spiritual collective comprised of representatives of all the world's colors and creeds at a time when ethnic segregation, religious intolerance and hatreds borne of ignorance were still the prevailing order of the day across much of the nation.

Most-prominently featured were a bearded rabbi in a yarmulke, a Christian and a Muslim mother each cradling a child, a Japanese woman in a traditional kimono, and a rail-thin working-class white man in a denim shirt. And subtly stenciled in block letters at the bottom, amidst an endearing melting pot of cherubic kids, were these words from Matthew 7, verse 12, colloquially referred to as the Golden Rule: "DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS DO UNTO YOU."

Rockwell undoubtedly painted this optimistic picture with the hope that, like a stone causing a ripple on a pond, a universal message of peace would slowly spread and at least resonate with a future generation, even if his beloved homeland was still far too dysfunctional in his day to recognize that its tattered social fabric was in dire need of reweaving.

When my friends, Andy and Beth, invited my family to attend their Seder last weekend, to commemorate the Jewish Holy Day of Passover, I never expected to be so moved by the invite. Initially, I was surprised to see such a diverse gathering of guests, one which seemingly reflected the full range of hues and faiths in our community.

I was seated at a table with a couple of Mennonite missionaries, a Hindu, a Latino, a lesbian, a Catholic, a Presbyterian, Baptists, and even an atheist. Blacks outnumbered Jews in attendance, as did Christians. But in no way, did the preponderance of gentiles prevent a proper Seder service from proceeding.

In fact, each of us took turns reading from the Passover Haggadah over the course of the evening, a sumptuous, sit-down feast frequently interrupted by passages recounting the Jews' gratefulness to God for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt during Biblical times. The ritual reminded me of my own African-American ancestors, and afforded me an opportunity to pay a quiet tribute to them for having endured their ordeal.

And as I looked from face to face around the table, I sensed that I was not alone in finding a personal meaning in a service originally intended solely for those of the Jewish faith. And at that moment, I experienced the Seder as the painting Golden Rule come to life, the entire human family represented, breaking unleavened bread, toasting wine and commiserating as one.

Black Star News columnist, attorney Kam Williams is a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars. For more reports subscribe to the newsstand edition of The Black Star by calling (212) 481-7745. Credit card orders click on “subscribe� on the homepage.

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