Pushing Back On Anti-Semitism with Love and Matzah

Our Q&A with 2 for Seder founder Marnie Fienberg

Published Thursday, April 4, 2019

The horrific shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018 left many people heartbroken, wondering what they could do to help. This Passover, Pittsburgh resident Marnie Fienberg has one easy way to help and it only takes “Love and Matzah.”

Marnie created 2 for Seder, an initiative to honor her mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, who was one of the 11 victims tragically murdered at the hands of anti-Semitism. 2 for Seder encourages Jews to welcome two non-Jews to their family Seder in an effort to build bridges that might prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

We are inspired by Marnie’s efforts and encourage JCC members and the New Orleans community to participate in 2 for Seder this Passover. Register online at 2forseder.org to receive a free participant kit to support your efforts before, during, and after your Seder.

Learn more about 2 for Seder and honoring the legacy of Joyce Fienberg in our Q&A with Marnie below.

Q&A With 2 for Seder Founder Marnie Fienberg

How did you come up with the 2 for Seder initiative?

It was November during Shloshim (the first 30 days of mourning) and I needed to write about Joyce so people would know who she was and what was stolen from us.  I’m a member of Hadassah and the editor of the National Magazine said that they were prepping the Passover issue – could I write something about that? Well, I’ve never made Seder without Joyce, and frankly hadn’t yet thought about Passover yet.

Three boxes of tissues later I wrote this article and the beginning concept of 2 for Seder is right at the end.  It seemed like there was something special there. As a reality check, I spoke with Brian Schreiber, the Executive Director of the JCC in Pittsburgh and he was nurturing, encouraging and threw his support behind the concept.  I then talked about the 2 for Seder idea to anyone who would listen and was given many amazing tweaks that greatly improved the concept. The idea of 2 for Seder took shape and here we are!

Tell us about Joyce. What did she mean to you? Your family? Community? 

It’s really hard to write about that – I deeply, deeply miss her and our whole family is trying to rebuild our spirits, especially her beautiful grandchildren.  It’s a chasm that will take a very long time to cross. It’s the same for the other families who lost someone in Pittsburgh.

At her Shiva, there were people from across the country, not just family and friends, but complete strangers, some of who were Jewish, some from other faiths.  I’ve never experienced a Shiva like that –genuine sorrow and love from people who didn’t know her.

2 for Seder is one of the ways we can start to heal and also give back to all the people who supported us at that time.  By participating in this event and building bridges to our neighbors, Joyce’s generous and loving spirit is still with all of us who were so crushed by the events in Pittsburgh.

What would Joyce say about this initiative? Would she be a host?

2 for Seder is structured the way it is because Joyce was ALWAYS the hostess with a wide variety of people at her table.  To her, that was the whole point, her table was a place where all were welcome. This is all Joyce.

Our 400th Seder participant, by a surprising coincidence, was one of Joyce’s guests at Passover in 2008 when she was dating her Jewish future husband.  It’s just breathtaking to me that so many people were so touched by her love and generosity. By hosting you are keeping that light that was inside her alive – and shining it across the whole country.

What did you learn from partners like the ADL following the tragedy in Pittsburgh?

I learned that there is a “portfolio” of work being done to build interfaith tolerance and understanding, all at the professional level by many of 2 for Seder’s partners.  This is very interesting and critical work with the police (including the FBI, which I was a direct beneficiary of) and schools and policy work at the Federal, state and local levels.  We need to continue supporting this critical work.

But there’s a piece that’s missing – how can you and I actively and directly fight anti-Semitism?  Pointing out anti-Semitism feels very defensive, and sometimes it’s really hard to face hatred directly.

This is the piece that 2 for Seder, and hopefully other grassroots efforts, address.  The foundation of anti-Semitism is the mystery of not knowing what’s important to Jews, who we are and how we worship.  While people know our bagels and our Jewish guilt complex, it’s hard to communicate the love and joy that makes us who we are.  Let’s take this opportunity, when we become Jews each year, to bring a new friend on the Seder journey.

Can you share some of the reactions and responses you’ve gotten since announcing this project?

Overwhelmingly positive.  I think it’s healing to those who knew and loved Joyce because the generosity of her spirit shines through.  It’s also healing/Tikkun Olam for our whole country, most people are loving and want to actively do something positive to help repair their corner of the world.  We’re just not about hate – we want to push back on misconceptions with lots of love and matzah! Many people have spoken about how they received love and support from their neighbors after Pittsburgh and this is a way to keep that love going.  It can just grow and grow.

There is a concern by folks who are more traditional about inviting someone from a different faith to the home ceremonial table.  I strongly suggest that they can and should still take part – just go to a Community Seder (usually at a JCC) and bring two folks of a different faith to that meal.  While it’s our responsibility to take action and build the bridge, you need to build it in the way that feels right to you. It needs to be authentic.

What do you hope Jews will take away from hosting or attending?

When you have an out-of-towner come in and you are the “tour guide” somehow you always see or find something new.  Your Seder guests will do the same. To me, this helps remind us of how special and honored we are to experience the Seder.  Inevitably, you will also gain insights into your Guests’ background and learn something.

It is the Host’s responsibility to prepare their guests and make everyone feel comfortable.  The 2 for Seder Kit has a lot of tips and a version of the Kit just for guests.  

How would you explain or describe a Seder to a non-Jew?

Seder is a very special time for all Jews.  Each year we make a spiritual and physical journey from being the lowest of the slaves to become a united Jewish nation.  It’s a special ceremony that takes place in the home, with traditions that are passed down from parent to child. Each Seder reflects the background of that family.

By joining your Jewish friends, you are walking by our side and seeing who we are at our best. You will also be eating a LOT of delicious food. Consider wearing pants with an elastic band.

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