September 16, 2019

Then Came the Ox

All evening Taumisha Freeman sat dutifully, listening to the story of the Exodus out of Egypt, tasting matzah (“It needs salt”), reciting the plagues, without any expression. It was hard to know if she was bored or if, given the fact that she had never been around anything Jewish before, it was just too strange to be here at this intergroup Passover, sponsored by the Pacific Southwest regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

But Freeman, a junior at Crenshaw High School, who worships at Mosque 27 in Los Angeles, finally cracked up when “Chad Gadya” was sung. Her table was assigned to make the sound of the ox –what in the world does an ox sound like?–and finally, after the cats and the dogs and the geese and the whatever took their turns, her table attempted a gruff “moo,” causing Freeman to break into big bellyfuls of laughter. Who can resist this song? Certainly not any of the 250 teenagers who were in attendance that night.

For the fourth year in a row, the ADL has held a Passover seder for the schools in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that participate in Children of the Dream, a program that brings Ethiopian Israelis to L.A. and L.A. inner-city students to Israel, to promote interethnic dialogue and understanding.

A world-renowned program that has been highly successful since its inception in 1992, the ADL initiated the seders to expand on the common theme of oppression. This year’s seder was held on March 23 at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where Rabbi John L. Rosove, playing an African hand drum, and Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom, on guitar, led the service.

Also at the head table, under the big blue banner of the ADL, was Speaker of the Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa; David A. Lehrer, ADL regional director; Howard Sherwood, an ADL board member; William S. Lambert, Children of the Dream’s founder; and the elegant Dr. Gloria Haithman, Spiritual Assembly leader of the Baha’is of L.A., who appealed to the multicultural crowd with her own story of repression.

Participating LAUSD schools were the Downtown Business Magnet, Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks Centers for Enriched Studies, Bravo Medical Magnet, and Jefferson, Jordan, Kennedy, Hamilton, Crenshaw and Venice high schools, along with a local Catholic school, Sacred Heart. The Hamilton High contingent brought along the school’s magnificent Gospel Choir.

“I truly believe that all students should participate in some kind of multicultural activity,” says Patricia Bayard, a social studies teacher at Crenshaw, who was sitting with Freeman and two of her other students. This is Bayard’s second seder, and although she still hasn’t gotten used to the matzo crumbling into tiny bits every time she takes a bite, she believes this kind of event promotes a better understanding among diverse groups. “It isn’t a lecture, but a chance to hear, to observe different things,” she says. “Some students are too shy [to participate], but they do observe, and it makes a difference.”

Junior Angela Norris, 17, a student in Crenshaw’s gifted magnet, believes the interchange of races and faiths is a good one, but she wouldn’t mind if people came to her neck of the woods, too. “I think it helps; I think everything with other cultures helps,” says Norris, who had never attended a Jewish holiday service. “It’s good for me to come here. [I have] a better understanding of their culture, the same as if they went to my church, they’d have a better understanding of mine.”

ADL take note: Next year in South Central.

For more information about the Children of the Dream program, call Bette Weinberg at the ADL, (310) 446-8000.Charlotte Hildebrand Harjo, Staff Writer