The Anti-Defamation League of New England’s annual community seder comes at a pertinent time in our country. While immigrants and their history in America have been expressly feted through the rituals and symbols of the Passover seder, Robert Trestan, regional director of ADL New England, noted, “In the 10 years we have been celebrating America’s immigrant history, it’s never been in the news and at the top of people’s minds like it is this year.”

Since the seder’s inception, ADL New England has partnered with various communities and agencies to celebrate Passover’s messages of freedom and hope. This year’s sponsors include the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Boston’s Department for Immigrant Advancement, NuDay Syria and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. Trestan explained that the diversity of the seder’s participants reflects how the event has always been “about sharing people’s experiences in the journey to freedom. Every year we have highlighted various immigrant stories, and the one common thread in those stories is the desire to come here and seek a better life.”

Courtesy ADL New England

This year’s seder will also feature resources on lobbying for the Safe Communities Act, which would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state. Rabbi Matthew Soffer, associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston and this year’s seder officiant, shared that there will be a moment in the seder to focus on available resources that shed light “on what are our rights and what are the rights of immigrants in the United States. So much of the Passover story is about the protection the Israelites received. What are the protections our democracy upholds for us and our hopeful citizens?”


Soffer said he was honored to be asked to lead this year’s seder. He observed that during this difficult time for immigrants, he sees the seder’s outreach efforts as part of his activism. He noted that the climate of last year’s campaign season, especially the rhetoric that targeted immigrants and foreigners, made him feel as if he were experiencing the Passover story in real time. “We’re living in that part of the Passover liturgy that says in every generation one is under the obligation as seeing him or herself as coming out of Egypt,” he said. “The Torah instructs no less than 36 times to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

While the seder will follow the basic outline of the Haggadah, it will also address the current political climate with relevant addendums and readings that have been adapted for contemporary times. For example, the 10 plagues listed in ADL’s Haggadah will include modern-day scourges such as xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry. The pivotal question of the Passover Haggadah—“Why is this night different from all other nights?”—is offered in myriad languages, including Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Ladino. And as the cup of Elijah is celebrated and meditated upon, seder participants will “remember those men, women and children who perished at the hand of tyrants more wicked than the pharaoh who enslaved our ancestors in Egypt.”

Courtesy ADL New England

“It’s been such a frightening year for so many immigrants,” said Soffer. “Many people who are regular attendees are showing up this year with a greater anxiety, a greater fear. Attending the seder lays more emphasis on the importance of the ritual and, as a whole, the value in Judaism. The Jewish people have a story to tell and responsibilities come out of that story. It will mean a lot to tell that story with the community at large. We all need to be hearing it.”

Register for ADL’s “A Nation of Immigrants” community seder here.