JP Residents Share Cultures, Pledge Solidarity at Cape Verdean Passover Seder

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Jamaica Plain resident David Schwartz and Adelsa Mendes participate in the Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder on April 4th, 2017.

The 12th Annual Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder was celebrated by 200 Cabo Verdeans, Jews and guests to share their cultures, explore what they have in common, and, this year, to pledge solidarity with one another.

Led by Jamaica Plain resident Ted Behr and Adelia Rocha, the event featured speakers from the Jewish and Cabo Verdean communities addressing the themes of this year’s event: Solidarity and Sanctuary.

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Jamaica Plain resident Ted Behr and Adelia Rocha lead the 12th Annual Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder on April 4th, 2017.

A highlight of the evening's events, which took place at the Hibernian Hall in Roxbury on April 4th, was the presentation of the Community Commitment Award to Project Health CV, an organization based in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that has brought life-saving health care, equipment and training to the people of Cabo Verde.  This year's Seder also featured performances of Cabo Verdean music by Vanuza and Jewish music by the 10-piece Workmen's Circle Klezmer Jam and a dramatic reading of a poem by high school students from the Jeremiah E. Burke High School.

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Jamaica Plain resident David Schwartz and Adelsa Mendes participate in the Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder on April 4th, 2017.

While this unusual cultural occurrence has taken place for the past 11 years, this time it was different. In recent months, both groups and many others have been faced with unprecedented threats – restrictions on immigration, increased deportations splitting apart families, demonization of immigrants, heightened racism and a wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes. Therefore, the planners of this year’s event decided that while this year’s event would include the usual opportunities for sharing cultures and personal stories, it would also include a commitment for both groups to defend one another from the threats we face. Both Rabbi Wayne Franklin of Temple Emanu-El of Providence and Adelsa Mendes, Coordinator of the Immigration Division of the Consulate General of Cape Verde, spoke on the themes of solidarity and sanctuary.

“We cannot ignore what is happening in this country and to our communities. I have seen families torn apart due to deportation and many other people living in fear of what may come next. In the face of this terrible situation, we cannot be divided. The Passover Seder is a wonderful opportunity for these two immigrant groups - Cabo Verdeans and Jews – to join together and unite against any attacks on either one of us,” said Ines Cabral-Goncalves, Cabo Verdean member of the Planning Committee for this event.

Rabbi Wayne Franklin declared in his speech, “We remember what it was like when hard-hearted leaders shut the door on our people - at many times, in many places - like the ancient Pharaoh. Our response must be to open our hearts… open our doors and share our bread - literally - and much more, with those who are arriving now and who need to eat, to find shelter, to furnish their homes and clothe themselves and their families.”

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Jamaica Plain resident Peri McKenna and another Seder participant raise their glasses of wine, as blessings in said in both Hebrew and Cape Verdean Creole.

This event is structured around the Jewish holiday of Passover, which commemorates the biblical liberation and exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt. The Cape Verdean-Jewish Seder brings together Jews and Cabo Verdeans to celebrate and explore what they have in common, including - a surprise to many Americans - the fact that they have a shared history. Due to two waves of Jewish immigration to Cabo Verde and generations of intermarriage, a large number of Cape Verdeans, in fact, have Jewish ancestors. Cabo Verde, a former Portuguese colony located on an archipelago off the west coast of Senegal, has experienced two waves of Jewish migration. The first group of Jewish immigrants arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Jews emigrated from Portugal to escape persecution. The second group came in the 19th century, when Jews from Morocco and Gibraltar arrived, escaping economic hardship.

Although there is no practicing Jewish community in Cabo Verde today, many Cabo Verdeans are descended from Jewish immigrants. The country’s first democratically elected president, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, is the great-grandson of Jews who came to Cabo Verdefrom Gibraltar. Cohen and Levy, common Jewish names in the US, are also Cabo Verdean names.

This year’s sponsors include Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue in Jamaica Plain; Anti-Defamation League; B’nai Or; Boston Workmen’s Circle; Bristol Community College; Brown University – Department of Anthropology; Cape Verdean Community UNIDO; Community Church; the Consulate General of Cape Verde; Hillel Council of New England; Irish International Immigrant Center; Jewish Big Brothers and Big sisters; the Massachusetts Association of Portuguese Speakers; Moishe/Kavod House, Brookline, MA; St. Patrick’s Church, Roxbury; Temple Beth Zion; Temple Sinai, Brookline; UMass Dartmouth - Center for Jewish Culture and Department of Sociology and Anthropology; and Victory Human Services.