Rwanda’s ambassador, Mathilde Mukantabana, received a standing ovation last week when she evoked the Holocaust when describing the 1994 genocide in her country that took some 800,000 lives.
“Even after we had said never again after the Holocaust that took place more than 70 years [ago], Rwanda was defying what humanity should be,” she said referring to this month’s 23rd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. “You are talking about a tiny country the size of Maryland … We didn’t have any state remaining. We didn’t have any church. People died in the churches.”
Mukantabana was one of the speakers at the American Jewish Committee’s annual ambassadors seder, held on April 6 at Washington Hebrew Congregation. She told the 300 foreign diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and Jewish community members that Jews have shown resilience throughout history in the same way her country has rebuilt from civil war.
Rwanda was one of more than 60 countries represented at the seder. Diplomats from Azerbaijan, Morocco, Vietnam and elsewhere sat at tables dressed with blue tablecloths and miniature flags from each country represented at the seder. A seder leader at each table guided others through the rituals and themes. The youngest, as per tradition, read the four questions (this reporter did so at one table).
Also following Passover ritual, there was no shortage of food or alcohol. Guests enjoyed wine and hor d’oeuvres before sitting down for a three-course meal. It included gefilte fish for the first course, Moroccan chicken breast for the main course and a dessert trio of fruit, chocolate truffle and macaroon to cap off the night.
Throughout the evening, guests shared their definition of freedom. Stilson Muhwezi of the Ugandan embassy told his tablemates that freedom is an idea that has relevance in all cultures.
“For us Christians, it means the blood of Jesus Christ, who was a Jewish boy, to redeem us from sins,” he said.
Dickson Ogwang, also of the Ugandan embassy, said viewed Passover as a celebration of life and an important educational opportunity.
“This ritual [seder] that we are here for today teaches me one thing: it teaches me about the importance of teaching my own child,” he said.
Other guests told Passover memories. William Kreisberg, an AJC board member, brought a plate from his grandmother’s china set to show others.
“She might have had three pieces of this and four pieces of that. But it always looked beautiful at the seder,” he said.