Multilingual Seder in Paris Helps Bridge the Gaps

At the Kehilat Gesher seder here, guests are free to participate in almost any language they want.

The French-American liberal synagogue, serving some 145 families in greater Paris at two locations, for the past three years has been conducting its festive Passover meal in more than 10 languages.

Among the tongues spoken: English, French, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, German, Spanish, Aramaic, Arabic, Italian, and even Chinese and Persian.

Tom Cohen, the American-born rabbi of this French Anglophone liberal community, explains that the community was founded on the desire of its members to “bridge the gap” — the definition of “gesher” — between French and English speakers, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish cultures, and the conditions of modern secular lives and its interconnection to Jewish traditional spiritual heritage.

“We accept all people as what they are,” he said.

Last year’s Passover evening was organized by the Gesher community in collaboration with the liberal French community led by the first woman rabbi in France, Pauline Bebe — Cohen’s wife.

The marriage between the communities produced a ceremony attended by hundreds of members of both synagogues and Parisians seeking a festive seder where everyone was accepted and welcomed regardless of personal situation or Jewish commitment.

Cohen is expecting 150 to 250 guests at the Gesher seder on April 2, the start of the holiday.

He says the Gesher seder is unique not just because of the multitude of languages, but because of its participants: the mix of members from all over the world.

“This mixture demonstrates the way we would like to celebrate,” Cohen said, “having more then one way of doing things, a demonstration of the richness of Judaism.”

This year they will talk about modern slavery, with prostitution in Israel and the Darfur genocide the two main topics.

“The seder is not only about the traditional text.! It’s al so about how to liberate ourselves from modern slavery, as we are all slaves of one thing or another,” Cohen said, adding the Bob Dylan line, “You have to serve somebody.”

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