By Savannah Williams
Sarah Joseph sat in a warmly lit room of this university’s Memorial Chapel Thursday night, Tanach in her hand and smile on her face, ready to share the significance of the Jewish celebration of Passover – with a group of Baptist students.
Joseph, a sophomore public relations and family science major, enjoys studying her religion at Hillel. She described herself as a conservative Jew who follows traditional egalitarianism to an audience of about 20 students around 7 p.m. yesterday, after Baptist chaplain Jessica Senasack invited Joseph to share her perspective on the holiday with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries club.
Joseph’s presentation helped Christian students learn about Jewish Passover traditions, as members read through Exodus 11 in their semester-long study of the Pentateuch.
Joseph said what stood out to her most about the Passover story was “this idea that you were slaves in Egypt, you were disenfranchised, and now you have a responsibility to take care of those who are disenfranchised. To me, that’s what Passover represents. It represents that switch of being the receiver of help, and then on the other side of it, being a strong, unified nation and having the opportunity to help,” said Joseph. “I know that I live a fortunate and privileged life, so Passover is a reminder that that’s not how it always was.”
Both Joseph and Senasack emphasized the importance of the scriptural Passover for depicting the character of the God they worship.
“This is really key to a lot of practices and, I think, morals in Judaism,” said Joseph. “It clearly shows the Lord’s strength. It’s a clear indication that He’s mighty and strong and looking out for us.”
Senasack agreed that it depicted the character of God, but tied the Passover story to parallels commonly made in Christian circles between how faith in the lamb’s sacrificial blood saved the Jews, and how faith in Jesus’ sacrificial blood saves believers of God in the New Testament.
Joseph also spoke about her family’s traditions of eating strictly unleavened bread, having Seders for two nights, reading the Passover story and letting children search for the afikoman – a piece of matzah bread hidden during the course of the meal.
Searching for this elusive piece of matzah engages Jewish children in the traditions of their heritage, but Christians in attendance saw the practice through a different lens.
“For us, as Christians, we have this idea of the trinity – that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” said Senasack. “[Jewish people] had this thing where they had three pieces [of matzo], the middle is broken, and that’s the afikoman. That goes away, and then it comes back, and it’s broken up and everybody eats it.”
Senasack asked students what that reminded them of, and freshman animal science major Grace Brinsfield answered with a New Testament analogy.
“Jesus died, so He went in the grave, and then He came back to life three days later. He’s hiding, and then He comes back,” said Brinsfield.
BCM members noted the symmetry of Christian communion – the symbolic practice of eating (usually torn) pieces of bread to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice – to complete Brinsfield’s interpretation of the afikoman tradition as a New Testament allusion.
Students said that had learned a lot about Judaism from Joseph’s openness to questions and jargon-sparse presentation.
“I thought [Joseph’s visit] was very interesting,” said Michelle Yoder, a junior history and secondary social studies education major. “It was a good way of seeing what Judaism thinks of what is in the Bible, compared to what we, as Christians, see. It was cool to see the two of them click, mesh together.”
Editor’s note: In the interest of transparency, it is important to note that Savannah is part of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries club.
*CORRECTION: Joseph was holding a Tanach in her hand, not a Torah. The previous version of this article also identified Joseph as a Conservative Jew. However, she follows traditional egalitarianism.