Building Jewish allies
OpinionGuest Columnist

Building Jewish allies

The concept of 2 for Seder is simple: Invite two neighbors of a different faith (or no faith) to their first seder.

(Photo by photovs / iStock / Getty Images Plus )
(Photo by photovs / iStock / Getty Images Plus )

Everywhere we turn, we hear about the rising tide of antisemitism, a story that almost seems to present an alternative version of who Jews are in America. When my mother-in law, Joyce Fienberg, was murdered during the shooting at the Tree of Life building, my own story changed dramatically forever, as did my family’s and my community’s. Gone was the illusion of “it’s a problem in Europe, but not in America.”

This is especially important in the context of the upcoming trial, starting in late April. The killing of a dearly missed member of my family and 10 other souls while they prayed is held up as the primary example of rising antisemitism in this country.

People have asked if I fear some form of retribution or additional attacks at this time against my family. There is something that they don’t know. When Joyce was murdered, her funeral and shiva were attended by thousands of people, many of them not Jewish. There were letters and cards coming for a year from both children and adults. This was not like Germany,1938, when the Germans turned away from their neighbors. Rather, our neighbors of all faiths and backgrounds circled the wagons. This protectiveness and support has continued at our workplaces, schools and synagogues. This story of interfaith community is what I desperately wanted to share with others in my grief.

The 2 for Seder Project
In December of 2018, I came up with an idea of how to evoke this sense of community and foster allies. With the encouragement of many Jewish leaders, both in Pittsburgh and the Washington, D.C. area, and a great deal of research, I started 2 for Seder. The concept is simple: Invite two neighbors of a different faith (or no faith) to their first seder. While the project supplies participants with tips and a special kit for their guests, it’s all about the specialness of each Jewish family’s traditions. Of course, the Passover Haggadah is specifically designed for those hearing the story for the first time, while encouraging questions.

In 2019, more than 2,500 families across the United States and Canada let us know they participated in 2 for Seder. The bond forged in this circumstance builds a bridge for discussion and understanding that lasts long after the last glass of wine has been finished. It’s the beginning of a road to creating allies in our own circles who will stand by you (as you will for them).

Recently I was on an amazing panel about antisemitism along with a rabbi, and a Jew of color. As we talked about our experiences online, we learned that each had experienced antisemitism, but there was a difference in our experiences. As someone who was directly impacted by the shooting at the Tree of Life building, online supporters of my 2 for Seder project are protective. When there is an antisemitic comment made on the project’s social media, my followers (both Jews and gentiles) step up and respond. Their words are more powerful than anything I could ever say. But once in a while an additional thing happens: A conversation begins. When given an opportunity, people who are not Jewish are quick to say that antisemitism and hate have no place in our society.

Our project volunteers wanted to do something extra in our own backyard this year, so we are working with long-term partners at Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Center for Loving Kindness to create a community seder in the spirit of 2 for Seder, where we ask Jews to bring two friends of another faith to experience their first seder. With more than 120 people, this special Passover tapas will be held in Squirrel Hill to reach those who will encounter antisemitism from the “outside.”

This Passover, I encourage every Jewish person holding or attending a seder to take a moment and consider inviting someone of a different faith — a friend, a co-worker, a teacher or a neighbor. What would happen if they knew a little bit more about Judaism? Could a joyous Jewish experience that is designed to help them ask questions break through a wall of politeness? Is there an opportunity to build a bridge?

This year it’s particularly important to build allies. Many people aren’t aware that the trial will begin soon. While it is unclear if the mainstream press will be following the trial, it may be a rallying cry for antisemites across the country. Instead of ceding ground to hate, we can discuss our own narrative of our own story, a rallying cry for Jews to express support and solidarity with each other, and to reach out to neighbors. Each of us has an opportunity to reach out and let everyone know it’s OK to inquire and perhaps learn more about how they can make a difference too. PJC

Marnie Fienberg is the founder of 2 for Seder and a proud member of the Tree of Life Congregation while living in Washington D.C. She can be reached at

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