RALEIGH — With plates of horseradish, bitter herbs and boiled eggs set in their familiar places on the table, Jews gathered Sunday for a ritual that broke from tradition in a few notable ways.
For starters, the setting for this Passover Seder was the Irregardless Cafe, a Raleigh mainstay known more for its eclectic menu and music than a role in Holy Week activities.
And among the invited guests were Presbyterians, Baptists and Episcopalians, some experiencing the Jewish holiday of Passover for the first time. It coincided with a day associated with the beginning of their Christian faith, Palm Sunday.
The dinner marked the inaugural interfaith Seder hosted by Yavneh: A Jewish Renewal Congregation in Raleigh that seeks to foster dialogue among people of different religious backgrounds.
Rabbi Raachel Jurovics encouraged a near-capacity audience of 110 people to consider the Passover message of overcoming struggle.
This is not a story of people a long time ago, she said. It is our story. We have to remember that we have been in the place of those in need of help.
In that sense, Jews and Christians can find shared values during Holy Week, said Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
The story of Passover is the story of a peoples struggle for freedom, he said. God made everybody to be free. This is a recommitment to that work.
With its history as a community gathering spot, Irregardless Cafe was a logical place, said longtime owner Arthur Gordon.
Ive created an atmosphere that is conducive to strangers sitting in very close proximity to each other, he said. Getting as many people as possible into this building ... its all about creating community.
Yavneh is part of the Jewish Renewal movement, which encourages followers to explore the richness of the Jewish tradition, in part by learning from other faiths.
Jurovics became the groups spiritual leader in 2010 after a 13-year stint at Temple Beth Or, a Reform congregation in Raleigh.
The group holds worship services at St. Marks Episcopal Church in North Raleigh, an experience that has benefited both sides, said the Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren, rector of the parish.
My attitude is, their presence is as much a blessing to us as our space is a blessing to them, she said. We want to be the hands and feet of God, together.
A meal to remember
The meal and service commemorate a defining chapter in Judaism, when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt to reach freedom in the promised land.
The eight-day Passover observance is also known as the festival of unleavened bread, a reminder that the Jews fleeing Egypt didnt have time for their bread to rise.
The task of preparing the meal belonged to Irregardless Cafe chef Solomon Khoury, who began working Saturday to assemble the traditional dishes.
Among his top concerns: Making sure the matzoh balls wouldnt sink to the bottom of the soup bowl.
In the Jewish community, if they float, then youve made a good matzoh ball, he said.
A book called the Haggadah guides participants through ritual prayers, stories and songs.
Before the meal was complete, Jurovics was already wondering how many folks would attend next year. There might not be enough room, she worried.
Gordon was quick with a proud smile and a solution: Two nights.