Passover ritual highlights hope

Message of redemption, freedom is focus at Seder for people with AIDS

April 14, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

An interfaith gathering of people with AIDS, their friends and their families assembled last night to reflect on the illness and its effects in light of the Israelite story of liberation from slavery.

The first Seder of Hope: an Interfaith Gathering for People Touched by AIDS drew about 125 to Har Sinai Congregation in Upper Park Heights for a mock Seder the week before Passover.

"This is our story of redemption," said Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom, also in Upper Park Heights, as he began the ritual. "This is our Seder, our meal of hope."

Cantors Melvin Luterman of Oheb Shalom and Nancy Ginsburg of Har Sinai sang as the blessing was pronounced over the cup of wine and the holiday lights were kindled.

The Seder was sponsored by the Steven Kaufman AIDS Outreach Project, a program of Jewish Family Services. The project is named for Steven Kaufman, a Pikesville native who died of AIDS at age 32 a decade ago.

Since then, his parents, Buddy and Linda Kaufman, have funded the project to help other families facing the challenges they faced.

"Steven was our son," Buddy Kaufman said. "This is meaningful to us because anything we can do in Steven's memory to help the AIDS cause and give hope to people is meaningful to us."

Diane Israel, coordinator of the project, read a short midrash, a commentary on a biblical text, before the Seder began. As the Israelites fleeing the pharaoh approached the Sea of Reeds, they heard a voice that told them to link hands and not let go. They obeyed "and 600,000 of God's children crossed to safety," she said.

But the pharaoh's army, hearing the same voice, tried to cross as individuals. "One by one, these children of God drowned," Israel said. "Tonight is a night when the true meaning of linking hands stands strong."

It is common to use a Haggada -- a book containing the ritual for the Seder -- with a particular theme, and last night's was prayers and songs related to HIV/AIDS. In addition to the traditional melodies of the Seder, the Positive Voices of Baltimore, five men with AIDS, sang songs including "Remember to Remember," by a composer who died of AIDS, and "Names," about the renowned AIDS quilt.

The 10 plagues visited upon the pharaoh and the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus, are usually recounted by pouring 10 drops of wine. Last night, an 11th was poured for AIDS while a prayer was recited: "We pour a drop of wine in memory of those we have lost while we pray for those living with AIDS and HIV in the hope that soon there will be a cure."

Although AIDS is considered by many to be the plague of the 20th century, Israel said, that perspective can be counterproductive.

"What we don't want to do is look at AIDS as a plague," she said. "We know we can control it, because we can prevent it. The Exodus is a story of liberation and freedom. And that's what this is all about, too."

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