The music of Passover and the Civil Rights Movement

When I was a little girl my parents were housing testers. We lived in suburban NJ and our community was struggling with the civil rights issues that defined the times. When a black family tried to purchase a home in our neighborhood and was told that the home was no longer on the market, my parents, who are white, would approach the sellers and ask if the home was still available. If the answer was yes, the sellers’ racism was exposed and they were forced to accept the black family’s bid.
In 1962, at the age of two, I lived in New Orleans (LA). My parents, white Jewish Northerners, were appalled by the segregation they found in the South and determined to protest it every day in small ways. For example, when I was thirsty they made of point of having me – a small, blonde, blue –eyed girl in her pixie dress drink from the “COLORED ONLY” water fountains. My awareness of the differences between whites and blacks in this country began early.
I also learned that sometimes the smallest action can lead to big change.

In 1996 I was invited to provide the music for the Anti-Defamation League’s Black-Jewish Seder in Boston. This event was the brainchild of my friend and colleague Lenny Zakim, then Executive Director of the ADL. Lenny understood that talk is cheap – that relationship building happens more easily over a meal than at a meeting and that the best, perhaps only way to bridge the enormous gaps between Blacks and Jews in to bring them together around shared values . . . and food. The Black-Jewish Seder began as a small gathering of friends in a private home. Twenty years later we are a community of close to 1000 gathering annually to share music, food and the spirit of a Passover seder.
In 1997 I met LeRoix Hampton, Minister of Music at New Covenant Christian Church in Mattapan (MA) when his youth choir, Power Praise, was asked to contribute music for the Seder. LeRoix located, arranged and taught his choir a well-known Jewish folk song, Dodi Li, complete with perfect Hebrew pronunciation. The result was extraordinary – Jewish and Black audience members alike jumped to their feet to applaud and sing with the choir. They were a hit!
Following the success of the Seder I asked LeRoix and his talented young people to work with me to use music as a force for change. We invited a group of young Jewish singers to join the young people form LeRoix’s church and together we began to learn and share the freedom music of the Civil Rights Movement and Passover. It was our hope that the music would be the first step on the path towards mutual understanding and friendship. This album is the fruit of those labors.
Lenny Zakim died at the age of 46 after a courageous battle against cancer. Before his death he reminded me that I had an obligation not only to carry on his important work, but to rededicate myself to working for “tikkun olam”, the repair of the world.
Lenny – I wish that you could be here to witness these beautiful ripples which your pebbles have created. This project is dedicated to you and to all that you worked for.
We will carry on.