The Islamic Society of Britain’s JOE DOBSON enjoys an interfaith seder hosted by Reform Judaism’s top rabbi – and gains more than just an education in Jewish tradition.
As I sat on the tube on the way to a pre-Pesach seder hosted by Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism Laura Janner-Klausner, it dawned on me that I am not ‘friends’ with any Jewish Londoners. Jewish acquaintances, yes. I’ve attended interfaith events at synagogues, but true friends? Not really.
Upon arriving at Rabbi Laura’s lovely home, we were swiftly introduced to our fellow guests. I met leading activists within Britain’s faith communities, including Yasmeen Akhtar of the Three Faiths Forum and Bharti Taylor, the first Hindu woman to be invited to be a Member of the European Council of Religious Leaders.
Straight talking Naz Shah MP spoke about her own belief in equality between us all as human beings.
By the time Elizabeth Joy of the Indian Orthodox Church introduced her PhD research into the impact gender, ethnicity and class have on one’s perception of God, I was left feeling entirely inadequate in my knowledge of my own faith – never mind anyone else’s.
Rabbi Laura, together with rabbinical students Yaera Ratel and Roberta Harris, led us through what I understand to be a typical Reform seder, using the Reform Haggadah.
Each guest took turns to read sections with the singing, led by the Jewish guests.
Conservative MP Andrew Percy arrived after the explanation of the practice of leaning to the left when eating, so when it was later mentioned in passing that “we all lean to the left” he incredulously exclaimed: “Well, I don’t lean to the left”.
I’m still not sure if it was a joke or a misunderstanding, but it was the funniest line of the night.
The evening did briefly descend into something akin to a sitcom plot when Alex Fenton, Rabbi Janner-Klausner’s director of public affairs, phoned the cook to clarify if the charoset was alcohol free. It wasn’t.
So the Muslim guests and the game Rabbi Laura ate the maror neat, causing Faisal Iqbal of the British military to note:“It’s never wise to invite Muslims to dinner.”
Moments of theological and geopolitical disagreement could not be avoided entirely. Stephen Tunstall of the Christian charity Embrace
The Middle East controversially suggested that the search for the afikoman is clearly trumped by the Easter search for chocolate eggs, while postgraduate student Alyaa Ebbiary and Andrew Percy got into a heated debate about two peoples in conflict over several hundred years – the nations of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
At this point, with laughter from all those around the table, I saw the positive impact this seder would have. This is not about Christians, Hindus or Muslims knowing how Jewish rituals are conducted – Wikipedia could have told us that.
It is about friendship, trust and laughter.
Hosting a seder in your home and inviting those of other faiths to join you is a far braver and more personal act than to host an interfaith event at a place of worship.
It demonstrates, in a very personal way, that as free peoples we have the choice to show love and friendship to all.