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Museum Musings

A Night at the Round Table

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Our Seder table had no head, no foot, no place of honor, no place of shame. And so, though there were several dignitaries and leaders seated at the table, in our conversation no one was more important than anyone else. Freedom yields equality. Around our table, in freedom, all spoke from the heart with candor, humility, and conviction. All comments and questions were received with grace.

The ancient story of Israel’s ancestors, freed from slavery in Egypt, reminded us of our own “enslavements” and longings for freedom. For the ancient story is repeated in one way or another in the lives of all people. The story’s relevance to our particular lives became more obvious and more poignant with each performance on the Freedom Seder’s program. Music, poetry, testimonials, and stories fueled our longings for freedom for ourselves and for all: freedom from and freedom for, especially freedom for peace and justice, mutual respect and deeds of kindness; and freedom from burdens weighing down our psyches and families as well as freedom from our society’s penchant for greed, cruelty, violence, and injustice – society’s sins that keep us all, directly or indirectly, in bondage. zones of peace

As the ancient story of the Exodus was told - and retold in relation to today’s issues - I was filled with gratitude for the Jewishness of my Christian faith. As stories and songs gave urgency and drama to contemporary issues, I was in holy communion with those most affected by each: the stubbornness of racism, the indignities foisted on LGBTQ minorities, the crush of poverty, the struggles of students and their educators, the indifference received by artists, the sorrow of a people identified by holocaust and oppression. I witnessed small steps toward peace and justice being taken around our table as the Rabbi to my right and the Pentecostal Christian to my left asked questions of one another, searching for understanding and common ground.

I was at that table because I am a consultant with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, coordinating the Zones of Peace initiative for the Religious Leaders Council. The RLC includes the leaders of more than 30 religious traditions representing more than 2 million constituents in our region and committed to interfaith understanding and cooperation. Through the Zones of Peace initiative, the RLC honors congregations, organizations, and institutions whose efforts reduce violence and build better communities. The National Museum of American Jewish History is one of more than 50 organizations to be recognized as a “Zone of Peace.” The Freedom Seder is an outstanding example of the efforts that garnered this honor for the Museum, and this year served as the perfect backdrop to officially acknowledge the Museum as a Zone of Peace and to present them with their banner. I loved it and will be back.
“Next year in…”

John Hougen, Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia
Coordinator - Zones of Peace