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Annual Seder Supper celebrates interfaith worship

RoConnections - April 4, 2017

Rosemont College recently celebrated its Annual Seder Supper in Honor of Ethel Levenson, which took place on Tuesday, March 21st at 5 p.m. in Main Building. The notably diverse campus of approximately 1,100 has built a strong interfaith presence with various initiatives throughout the years including the annual Seder, a tradition which is now in its 52nd year.

The event, now named permanently in honor of former Dean of Students, Ethel Levenson marked its 52nd year in 2017, and while the Supper has gone through many organizers, the message remains the same: “to welcome all faith traditions” and not only welcome, but learn about them and celebrate them in accordance with the College’s mission.

Starting with the 2017 Seder Supper, initiatives are being made to establish a Fund for Jewish studies at Rosemont College. The Fund would assist the College by continuing to provide and broaden education of the Jewish heritage. The Fund will support initiatives such as the annual Seder Supper, an annual interfaith retreat, weekly interfaith reflections, and periodic courses in world religions developed accordingly with an emphasis on Jewish topics (Jewish studies, Holocaust education, Antisemitism, etc.).

Now heading towards year 53, the event was and still is well-attended by the campus community, especially those studying theology and religious studies during the spring academic term who are invited through their classes.

Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion Station presided on the warm Tuesday evening utilizing comedy and charisma to add his unique touch to the Seder. Yanoff claims the Seder “is not a spectator sport” and brought the crowd together through activities such as group song, reading, and thoughtful conversation.

Rosemont held its first Seder in 1965, in response to Vatican II – the council brought together by Pope John XXIII, who is credited [with the council] in molding today’s Catholic Church. One of the most noteworthy outcomes of the Council was the call for more ecumenical efforts toward conversations with those of different spiritual beliefs. Rosemont embraced that message from the Holy Father and implemented the Seder.

Originally referred to as a paschal meal, the Seder was initiated by the campus Spiritual Council in April of 1965. According to records from the College Journals, “it was most enthusiastically received” and in the following year, [1966] the meal was actually referenced in the student newspaper and was recognized as being the Seder Supper.

Former Campus Minister, Mary Popit, SHCJ took charge of the Supper in the mid-1970s until the early ’80s when Levenson directed it for many years including after she moved on from her role as Dean. Rosemont is delighted to continue this event in her honor and initiate the fund even though she is no longer able to celebrate with the campus community.

Levenson’s children, Carol [Levenson] Goodman and Roger Levenson were in attendance and were touched by the decision to rename the event in their mother’s honor.

“Ethel is overjoyed that the student body and extended Rosemont community have the opportunity to participate and support all the things that she held dear by continuing to share in these Seder traditions,” Goodman said.

“Regardless of religious beliefs, race or gender, we all believe that accepting one another is at the core of human nature. As we continue to be faced with religious persecution, a refugee crisis, inequality towards women, and ongoing hate for those who are different than us, we must remember where are forefathers came from and try to learn and grow from the lessons of history,” she added.

Seder is a Jewish ritual dinner, symbolically signifying the beginning of Passover. Usually celebrated in late March or April, the Seder is performed with a community and includes the re-telling of the liberation of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. The story, which can be found in The Book of Exodus in The Hebrew Bible, is told along with a discussion and symbolic foods to address and pass on the themes of slavery and freedom.

It should also be noted that the act of interfaith is one that is not just practiced within the confines of campus. In the regional picture, over 700 people in the greater Philadelphia area gathered on March 7th at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church to hear from founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel.

Also, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) recently wrote in a letter to the President of the United States, “We reaffirm the commitment of our Institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures.” Rosemont encourages students, faculty and staff to create that inclusive environment by “infusing the mission” regularly with an understanding and implementation of the College’s four core values:

  • Trust in and reverence for the dignity of each person;
  • Diversity with a commitment to building an intercultural community;
  • Persistence and courage in promoting justice with compassion;
  • Care for the Earth as our common home.

Patel, a distinguished leader in various ways, concluded his thoughts at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian with another question to the audience:

"How are people who orient around religion differently going to live together positively?"— Eboo Patel

Whether that question was rhetorical or not, the Rosemont College community strives to live and work together positively, collaboratively and in appreciation of all faiths and the Spiritual Council that inspired the Seder Supper would likely be in awe of the tradition and community of interfaith that has been brought forth since the event started 52 years ago.