As Part Of Her Fight Against Anti-Semitism, One Woman Is Inviting Non-Jews To Seder
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Tonight is the first night of Passover. Jews around the world will be gathering around a table for a festive meal to retell the biblical story of the Jewish people escaping from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago. It's called a Seder. And this year, through a program created by Marnie Fienberg, there will be some 1,800 people attending their first Seder. Feinberg's mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, was 1 of 11 worshippers killed during the October massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Joyce was 75.
In her mother-in-law's memory, Marnie Fienberg started a program called 2 for Seder. And she's here to talk about it now. Hi, Marnie.
MARNIE FIENBERG: Hi, Ailsa. How are you?
CHANG: I'm good. Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell me what Joyce was like? What were her Seders like? I want to picture them in my head.
FIENBERG: So actually, Joyce, when my husband and I were first married, sort of tutored me on how to do the proper Seder over time. Joyce also made a point of having many guests at every Seder, a lot of international friends and co-workers and students who were not where their families were. And they always brought them in.
She just wanted to make sure that you were comfortable. She didn't distinguish between any value of any sort. It was - you are a friend, you are an acquaintance, you are welcome in our home.
CHANG: Yeah, I love that. I read that after Joyce was killed, you didn't want to go back to work. Instead, you have devoted yourself to this new idea, 2 for Seder, where you want encourage Jewish families to invite at least two new non-Jewish guests to Seder. Tell me, what do you hope this simple gesture will accomplish over time?
FIENBERG: So I think that grassroots efforts are very powerful. I think the idea that I can do something, I can take action about something that really bothers me is very powerful no matter what space it's in. And this needs to be applied to fighting anti-Semitism and to fighting hatred of any sort. It's very important to me that we, as Jews, open our doors to our neighbors. You are a member of the family tonight.
I'm hoping that if you were experiencing something where someone was talking about Jews in a negative light, that you would be able to say, you know what? I had a very different experience than that. Let's talk about it. It can only go somewhere positive.
CHANG: And tell me why you chose this particular ritual, the Seder, to share with people who aren't Jewish. I mean, what do you think they can take away from the story of Passover?
FIENBERG: So it's more that it's a good on-ramp into what - what it means to be Jewish. It's almost as if when we go through the Passover ritual, that we are going from being slaves and family members to becoming the nation of Israel. It is, in essence, the time we become Jewish every year. If you walk beside me as I'm taking that journey each year, if you walk beside me tonight, then you will really have a bit of insight about what it means, to me, to be Jewish.
CHANG: When you explain this idea to people, this idea of 2 for Seder, has anyone said to you yet, Marnie, this is so idealistic - I mean, you're never going to rid the world of anti-Semitism?
FIENBERG: The negative pushback that I've gotten is a very practical kind of pushback. Most of the Jews that I've ever met, which are a lot of people, are very, very practical people. And they're just thinking about...
FIENBERG: Logistics, logistics. And there have been a few people who have asked - but you can't prevent what happened to Joyce this way. And I don't know if that's true. If we can get that base-level understanding of who this diverse quilt of America is.
Maybe we can prevent one killing. Maybe we can prevent one physical interaction. Maybe we can prevent one social media interaction. I don't know where it ends or it begins, but I know we have to do something. I know we can't just sit back. We have to get it done.
CHANG: Marnie Fienberg is the founder of 2 for Seder. Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
FIENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.