Celebrating the Earth at an Interfaith Seder

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Holden Forests and Gardens invited the interfaith community to their annual interfaith environmental dinner at the Cleveland Botanical Garden on Wednesday evening, February 12, 2019. I am delighted and honored to report that Margaret W. Wong & Associates was one of the sponsors of this event. We were asked to arrive early, which we did – in order to experience and enjoy one of the Botanical Garde’s most popular shows, Orchid Mania, featuring more than a thousand orchid flowers in every shape, size, scent and color. This year’s theme of Magnificent Orchids created an exotic and alluring encounter to warm our winter.

As it stated in its mission, “the Jewish Federation of Cleveland is the only organization in Cleveland that focuses on the health and vitality of the entire Jewish community. For 115 years, the Federation has created the critical scale necessary to drive meaningful social change and provide relief in times of crisis in ways no one person or organization could do alone. As Jewish Cleveland’s hub for innovative solutions and collaborative services, the Federation is able to change and improve lives in Cleveland, Israel, and around the world.”

Clergy from the three Abrahamic faiths, including Rabbis, priests, and Imams, started this wonderful event by thanking all attendees and the following organizations that partnered with the Federation regarding this function: Interfaith Commission and the Diocesan Social Action Office of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Cuyahoga ReLeaf, Jewish National Fund, Celebrating Jewish Life, Ohio Interfaith Power and Light. Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Nature Conservancy of Ohio, Friends of the Arava Institute, Sustainable Cleveland, LEAP for Biodiversity, Rid-All Green Partnership, and the Turkish American Society of Cleveland.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland and its committee of volunteers and speakers stated, “we come together on this day as one community to Celebrate a Shared Earth because it’s not just one of us, but all of us, who must care for each other. Together, we integrate all of our traditions into the Seder, singing songs in Hebrew and English, and reading passages from the Torah, Koran, and Bible. We conclude with a special meal, feasting on the fruits of the land and connecting with friends old and new.”

Citing some powerful statements from the Welcome Tu B’Shevat Seder, a leader from the audience read the following, “Every 15th of Shevat, Jews gather together to remember the miracle of nature and celebrate our relationship to it. We are about to begin our Seder, and taste the fruits of God’s creation and to reflect on our role in the world. Let all who hunger for knowledge and change come to reflect on our partnership with the earth and our connection with nature.”

A reader responds, “in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, the wind and the water, the sky and the sea; and although God planted flowers and trees in the earth’s soil, God refrained from sending rain down. The Torah teaches that only once God had created human beings did God allow the vegetation to bloom…”

Another reader continued, “Tu B’Shevat today is like a bonsai tree that helps us see in miniature the broader shape of contemporary Jewish renewal. It is one of the clearest examples of the rebirth of rooted Jewish life after the Shoah. The charred site of a new forest stands in its place… Today’s Tu B’Shevat seders grow organically from more than 2,000 years of Jewish tradition, yet the vital elements of them are new and reflect the world we live in. The encounter of postmodern urban life with contemporary environmental challenge is renewing Jewish life in unanticipated ways. It is an opportunity to deepen our roots, and to branch out afresh to engage the world.”

With a most moving words the Interfaith Dinner ended by these unified statements that embodied a sense of unity and a strongest headline carrying such a theme, “This land is your land, this land is my land from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters; this land is made for you and me… may you be blessed as you go on your way; may you be guided in peace.. May you be blessed with eternal joy; may this be our blessing, amen. Amen… May you be sheltered by the wings of peace; may you be kept in our hearts and in our love. May grace and compassion find their way to every soul; may this be our blessing, amen. Amen

All in all, this interfaith event reflected to a great extent the real meaning of collaborative work and harmonious unity among the various interfaith and ethnic and cultural groups, all of whom called Cleveland their home and symbolized our beautiful mosaic, which translated our diversity into strength and mutual cooperation and respect for all.


By George J. Koussa
Ethnic Consultant and
Arabic Translator
Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC
Cleveland, OH