PIEDMONT -- Taking the Passover message of freedom to a local level, Kehilla Community Synagogue is using its annual seder as a way to connect people to social justice in their community.

It's a social action message that's uniquely possible in the East Bay, where faith-based activism is transcending any theological differences.

"We have a mandate to not stand idly by," said Kehilla's Rabbi David Cooper.

Kehilla Community Synagogue's yearly seder is open to the community -- and indeed working with others is part of Kehilla's mission. This year's guest at the seder is the Rev. Dr. George Cummings of Imani Community Church, an American Baptist church in Oakland.

Cummings, like Cooper, is involved in the network Oakland Community Organizations, which brings together over 80 congregations, synagogues, schools and other groups in Oakland to promote social justice and activism. The various members work on community empowerment, job creation, reaching out to youth and immigration rights. The organization also acts as a community partner on the crime prevention program Operation Ceasefire.

Cummings currently co-chairs the board of OCO and his work on these issues makes him a perfect guest for Kehilla, according to Cooper.

"Kehilla has been a social action synagogue since our inception," he said.

Cooper said he was happy Cummings was making time to visit the synagogue, considering the next day was Easter Sunday.


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"We're particularly touched he's going to come on Saturday night," he said.

Cummings, a native of New York, is the founding pastor of Imani and a former professor of theology at American Baptist Seminary of the West. Previously he worked at the Church By The Side of the Road in Berkeley. He was one of nine pastors honored in March by the Oakland Police Foundation for their work on Ceasefire, where he was also the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding leadership.

Kehilla was founded in 1984 and has been in its Piedmont Avenue location for nine years. Besides being part of OCO, it is also part of the "Faith Trio" that includes the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California and Montclair Presbyterian Church. A Jewish Renewal movement synagogue, it has always been progressive on social justice and equality issues.

This year's seder at Kehilla has the motto "Take Action," a strong message. But Cooper said the event won't be didactic. It will be led by both Cooper and Rabbi Burt Jacobson, feature music by Julie Nesansky and Debbie Fieras. The dinner will be organic and vegetarian-friendly.

"The seder is going to be interesting, is going to be fun, is going to be oriented toward the message of Passover, which is liberation," Cooper said.

FYI
What: Kehilla Annual Community Passover Seder
When: 4:45 to 8:30 p.m., April 19
Where: 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont
Cost: $40 per adult member and $44 per adult nonmember; $25 to $35, students, seniors, disabled and low-income; and $18 for children ages 6-12
Information: preregistration required; to register, go to www.kehillasynagogue.org