Amid rising tensions nationally and in Boston, hundreds of people from diverse communities gathered Sunday in the Campus Center Ballroom at the University of Massachusetts in Boston to embrace the spirit of Passover — celebrating the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt — while embracing the universal journey that immigrants of all backgrounds share.
“This is an opportunity for people from all the corners of the Boston area and come together and share a meal,” said Robert O. Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in New England, which hosted the event. “Today’s an opportunity to focus on what we have in common, because we have so much more in common than we have different.”
It was the league’s eighth annual “A Nation of Immigrants” Community Seder, led by Rabbi Mark Sokoll, president of Jewish Community Centers of Boston, and contemporary Jewish singer Peri Smilow.
“I like the idea behind it,” expressed Haitian native Jean Horthy Bourdeau, 45, of Cambridge, who celebrated his fourth ADL seder with his wife, Rose, and their son Noah.
“America is a nation of immigrants, and you know we’re having some issues on this aspect,” Bourdeau said, referring to anti-immigrant sentiment nationally. “That’s why it’s important to be a part of this.”
Attendees shared wine, matzo, and prayer together as they rejoiced in their unifying experience.
Participants placed sticky notes on a poster-board timeline as well as a wall-sized map, marking the year, and country of origin from which their they or their family immigrated.
“My family [were] immigrants just like everyone else,” said Anne Tierney, 82, of Boston after reflecting on the map. “It made me feel more a part of America.”
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Democrat of Boston, and Police Commissioner William Evans all spoke at the event.
“We have African-American, Latino, Asian, Vietnamese,” said Evans. “We try our best to reflect all of the immigrants of our city. It’s what makes our city strong and what makes our Police Department special.”
Referring to the shooting of Boston police Officer John T. Moynihan on Friday night, Evans said, “When we have an instance like we had the other day, we all pull together. We know what it is that our city’s all about.”
Portions of the Seder were read in up to 13 different languages, ranging from Dutch to Mandarin, while various musical performances were sung in each artist’s native tongue.
“This [event] resonates with me because we have such a rich city and country based on the immigrant story and in particular the immigrant experience,” said City Councilor Tito Jackson, whose family history can be traced back to times of slavery.
“When we look at the dependence we have on immigrants in the city of Boston, state of Massachusetts, the country, and our economy,” Jackson said, “we actually should be thankful to this community rather than some of the sad and disappointing ways people try to push immigrants out.”
Niko Emack-Bazelais can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.