As a part of his apology tour since his remarks blaming the weather on “the Rothschilds,” D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) attended a social justice-themed seder on the first night of Passover, which he called sobering, relevant and much more lively than he was expecting.
“It was great,” he said Tuesday. “I kind of thought it was going to be a little dry, but it was very interactive, very interesting and very sobering.”
Also at the March 30 seder, held at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, was fellow council member Elissa Silverman, who is Jewish, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
White had never been to a seder. Since the backlash over his espousing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory — his comments were condemned by all his fellow council members and local Jewish organizations — he has begun a crash course in Jewish history and culture.
In an interview, he spoke about the symbolism of the seder plate. He said he was familiar with the Exodus story, but was impressed by the way each item stands for a larger concept. The symbolism made him think about the story and its contemporary relevance, he said.
“I thought it was going to be like a church service,” he added. “But it wasn’t. It was like a roundtable discussion. I came out of there feeling more informed, more comfortable, more at peace.”
White, Silverman and Racine all said the discussions they had at their seder table were both deep and relaxed. Everyone spoke about their background and the issues that were important to them.
“I was really overwhelmed with just the spirit of informality yet welcoming depth,” said Racine, who was attending his first seder in many years. “I just found that level of discussion among strangers really profound.”
The format gave people a chance to talk about how they had experienced oppression, Silverman said. People really talked to each other, she added, and were asking what actions they could take to make the world better.
“There was something different about Passover,” Silverman said. “I go to a lot of community meetings and there was something different about breaking bread — or matzah — with people. It got much more intimate, much more personal and much more productive, I think.”
Silverman said she wants to try to recreate the event — conversation-focused meals — more regularly to bring disparate communities together, an idea endorsed by Racine and White.
White said he was impressed by the participants’ desire for activism. One woman told him she wanted to help in neighborhoods that need it, like some of those White represents, but wasn’t sure how. She asked White she could do. White said the woman and her boyfriend are now planning to come to his community for service work.
Both Racine and White also said the seder gave them a sense of the scope of the struggles in Jewish history. And while differences remain, White added, there are many commonalities between the Jewish struggle and the African American one.
The efforts to bring the Jewish and African American communities together continue. White said he and Rabbi Batya Glazer, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, are in the early stages of planning an event for Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of slaves.
For her part, Silverman is already looking forward to next year’s seder.
“I couldn’t have scripted a better Passover myself,” she said.