Catholic, Jewish students celebrate roots
by Luke Eggleston
SUN staff writer
DEWITT — Students at Holy Cross School and Syracuse Hebrew Day School may have discovered last week they have more in common than they thought when they celebrated an Interfaith Model Seder meal together.
The event was the result of the planning and effort of Girl Scouts Annemarie Wolken and Katie Lord. Wolken is a junior at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, who also attended Holy Cross. Lord is a junior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School who attends Temple Concord.
The two became close friends through the Girl Scouts. When it came time for them to pursue their Leadership Gold Award project, they developed the idea of bringing together children of both faiths in the spirit of mutual understanding.
“We thought about [the fact that] she’s Jewish and I’m Catholic and we have such a good friendship. We thought it would be nice if people from the two faiths would get together and get to know each other,” Wolken said.
Lord noted that the pair had been planning the event for some time. “We’ve been preparing since November and spent hours making Haggadah and lesson plans and going into the classrooms. This is the final stage of that,” she said.
The “Haggadah” is a Jewish religious text detailing the order of the Passover Seder.
Lord wrote the text for the Haggadah and Wolken produced its illustrations, as well as the logo that appeared on the cover, which merged a cross, a star of David and a peace sign. According to Wolken’s mother, Denise, the two scouts chose the Seder because it pinpoints an intersection between the two religions. In Hebrew culture, Passover celebrates delivery from slavery in Egypt. Meanwhile, the celebration also marks the Last Supper before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
“They came up with working with these sixth graders to bring them together. The focus is how the two faiths – the Jewish faith and the Catholic faith – have so much similarity. So from the Jewish perspective, the Seder celebrates the Passover story,” Denise Wolken said. “From the Catholic perspective, Jesus, before he died, celebrated a Passover meal, or a Seder meal as part of the Last Supper. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. So there’s a lot of the similarities between the two faiths. This project was built on trying to come up with some mutual cultural understanding.”
In addition to writing the Haggadah, Wolken and Lord assembled the menu, which includes Seder staples such as matzoh, parsley and a particularly bitter brand of horseradish. Wolken and Lord also crafted masks and other items symbolizing each of the 10 plagues God inflicted on Egypt until Pharaoh finally consented to letting the Hebrews go.
The classes included Jessie Kerr-Whitt’s sixth-grade class from the Hebrew Day School and Monica Kolinski’s sixth graders from Holy Cross. Holy Cross student Knox Woolaver said that the event was educational. “Today I learned a little bit about the Jewish faith and what they do during Passover. It’s been lots of fun,” he said.
Both groups of students participated in each phase of the Seder, while the students from Hebrew Day School read the portion in Hebrew.
Lord and Wolken both visited the elementary students’ classrooms in order to explain what the Seder means and what they would be participating in.
“The classroom visit was to bring in the similarities of the two faiths so that they would understand what they were doing, so that they would learn and interact and know about each other,” Lord said.
Wolken elaborated that they also taught the sixth graders about the common roots of both Abrahamic faiths.
“Then we talked about how the Catholic faith has roots in this ceremony so they could understand and know how it relates to their faith and then we spread out the kids so they’d mesh together and talk,” Wolken said.
Msgr. Robert Yeazel, the pastor of Holy Cross Church, welcomed the students to the special event before the meal began.”
“Our tradition continues what your tradition began,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful tradition to come together.”