VIDEO: One Feast, Many Faiths

by Asha Mahadevan

Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered together at Park Avenue Christian Church for an Interfaith Peace Seder on the third night of Passover. The seder, organized by the Interfaith Center of New York in association with the church and Park51, the community center under construction on Ground Zero, came during a week where Jews celebrated Passover and Christians, Holy Week, an occurrence that happens once every four years.

Rabbi Ari Fridkis, the rabbi of Da’at Elohim: The Temple of Universal Judaism Congregation – which is housed in the church – led the seder while Pastor Alvin Jackson and Imam Azam Ariaz spoke about the connections between the texts of the three Abrahamic religions. Around 100 people attended the festivities, double of what the organizers had initially expected.

For more than three hours, complete strangers sat across each other at two long tables and cheerfully passed around Matzoh bread and grape juice (since Muslims are not traditionally not supposed to consume alcohol, juice was served instead of wine.) Many of the Jews present explained the rituals to the Christians and Muslims sitting next to them.

The event was planned and executed in five weeks, said Kevin Costa, a city official in the transportation department, who came up with the idea of an interfaith seder. Costa said that during his six years as a student at Columbia University, he had attended an interfaith seder that saw Christians and Jews coming together. “There is so much strife in the world and I thought it would be nice to have all three Abrahamic religions,” he said.

The idea came to him when he was in a high-level coaching seminar. “I was talking to a Christian woman, and at the same time, I got a text from a Muslim friend of mine and then literally 15 seconds later, the only person out of the 120 people in the room wearing a yarmulke walked into the room. To me that was a sign that this had to happen,” he said. “It is amazing how everyone has come together in such a short amount of time.”

This is the first of many such seders he hopes to see all around the city.

For Atif Sial, director of development at Park51, the seder offered a good opportunity to tell the world about the real Muslim. He said that there were too many wrong stereotypes being propagated and Islam actually preaches peace and acceptance of other human beings regardless of the religion they follow.