Bridge building

Black Jewish Seder brings together leading advocates, actors, musicians in L.A.

Idea for the meal came about during a conversation between CNN political commentator Van Jones and Deborah Marcus, an executive at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Foundation

Tiffany Haddish found the afikomen at a Seder no one was expected to know about, one that included advocates and award-winning actors and musicians from the overlapping Black and Jewish communities.

The idea for the event was sparked during a conversation between CNN political commentator Van Jones and Deborah Marcus, executive at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Foundation, the talent agency’s philanthropic arm, about hosting an event that would help bring the Black and Jewish communities together during this tumultuous time when the Gaza war has driven a wedge between many in both communities.

“Pick a date,” Marcus said, and she offered to hold it at her house.

The Seder, which was held in Los Angeles last Monday, the final night of Passover, was inspired by past “Freedom Seders” that brought together members of the Black and Jewish communities. Black and Jewish communities have a storied history of working together, such as during the Civil Rights Movement, but have also found themselves at times divided, with major figures in both communities resorting to using stereotypical tropes such as referring to Jewish people as termites or Black people as monkeys. A December 2023 Times/Siena Poll showed that Black voters sympathized more with Palestinians than with Israelis.

The 25 attendees included Grammy-nominated songwriter Freddie Wexler, singer Aloe Blacc and actor (and Seder leader) Jonah Platt. They were invited from across the advocate and entertainment world, including talent not affiliated with CAA. Marcus said she invited people she knew who shared similar values.

“Bringing people together over meals, over rituals, is just a fabulous way to build bridges and to reconnect,” Marcus told eJewishPhilanthropy. “The story of Exodus is an important one to Jews and is also one that is relevant to many in the Black community.”

Attendees at a Passover Seder for Black and Jewish artists and advocates in Los Angeles on April 29, 2024.
Attendees at a Passover Seder for Black and Jewish artists and advocates in Los Angeles on April 29, 2024. (Jonah Platt/Instagram)

The Seder was not an official CAA event and received no funding from the agency. Marcus never expected so much buzz around it. There were no press releases, no interviews scheduled. But within days, pictures flooded the internet because attendees were so moved.

“Nights like this are super important,” singer and actress Malynda Hale told eJP. She hopes to launch her own Soul Food Shabbat events later this year to help inspire “more discussions on how our communities can come together and be there for one another and others.” She is not Jewish, but said, “It was beautiful to share a night learning about someone else’s culture.”

The event featured food cooked by James Beard Award-winner Aliza J. Sokolow, the author of This is What I Eat, and included brisket, salmon, cauliflower, asparagus and macaroons. “I think we all ate matzah before we were supposed to,” Hale said of the long ritual meal. “I know I did.”

The event ran over four hours. “Everyone said to me, ‘Things don’t go late in Los Angeles, you’ll definitely be able to leave at 10:30 [to catch a plane],’” Amanda Berman, founder and executive director of the Zioness Movement, told eJP. Luckily, her plane was delayed. “We didn’t eat dinner for several hours because we were having beautiful moments and experiences together.”

Things got especially emotional, Berman said, during the Four Questions, when Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, the senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple and Schools, prompted other attendees to share about their challenges, personally, professionally and based around the chaos of the world.

“It was such a moving and meaningful moment because there was so much solidarity and feeling of love and connection that everyone felt comfortable enough to really share what they were struggling with,” Berman said. “They felt so much support from the people around them. People were holding hands, touching each other’s shoulders.”

Attendees spent much of the Seder reflecting on the history of Black-Jewish partnership and how it’s impacted their communities and the nation. They recognized that being Black and Jewish are not binary, there are many Jews of all backgrounds.

“It’s so important especially now to spend time listening to one another’s stories with curiosity and empathy, asking questions, opening ourselves to new perspectives. This is how we grow.” Zweiback told eJP. “Our stories are deeply intertwined. Our struggles are shared ones. We are better and stronger and freer together.”

For the past two years, the CAA Foundation, which traditionally focused on arts, education, civic engagement, the climate crisis and responding to natural disasters, has shifted its focus to include combating antisemitism. In 2022, it held a town hall in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance discussing antisemitism and produced an educational tool kit about antisemitism. Last year, it hosted a conversation with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, and this year it’s  holding screenings of Oct. 7 footage.  

This shift is “personal to me,” Marcus said. “It’s been important to many in our company, and it’s also been important to many of our clients who wanted the additional resources and wanted to then be connected to organizations who are working to fight antisemitism and to support the Jewish community.”

Seeing people with such large platforms come together around a Seder table to share stories of liberation and commit to caring for one another offered hope, Zioness’ Berman said.

“This was one of those moments of remembering that there are allies out there,” she said. “There are people who care. There are people who would say yes to an invitation. There are people who are not Jewish who are thinking of us, who stand with us.”