Teens at Seder for Change explore race and ecology

On a night when youngsters usually ask the questions, they came up with many of the answers.

Last week's "Seder for Change," at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, featured a group of teens from Glide Memorial Church and the JCC's Club 18, who commemorated Passover by addressing the trials and tribulations of young adulthood.

Noticeably absent from their presentations — which were mostly in the form of readings — was any mention of adolescent crushes or the horrors of pre-prom pimples.

Instead, in keeping with the theme of the April 12 event, the teens touched on issues of racism, environmental concerns, youth violence and sexual identity.

"To be black is to be looked down on by those who put themselves up on pedestals of their own fear and hate," read Darius Stone of Glide's youth group.

He was followed by Sarina Irizzarri and Crystal Hayden, also of the Glide group, who read lyrics from a song called "When I Grow Up":

Will I be able to see a rainbow

in a smog-filled sky,

will there be any trees alive

if not, how will the plants survive,

will the Internet have a web site at


Another student, Ilana Fried of San Francisco, read her poem called "Eversion":

Society has denied

The contrasts of a tide

Stripped of dignity and pride

Brutalized as a sexuality to hide.

Glide youth group member Carl Quann, 18, said that the evening was successful, adding that he "even liked the gefilte fish."

"For me, it was about blacks and Jews coming together to find self-expression, and talking about their real feelings…It was cool."

Sarah Weinberg, the teen program coordinator at Club 18, said the evening exceeded her expectations.

"The kids really unified themselves, and I think they came up with issues that a lot of people were surprised by," Weinberg said. "Even the fact that they were conscious of these issues is amazing. I think they showed real courage."

The emotional honesty of the readings was powerful enough to overshadow talks delivered by Rabbi Alan Lew and the Rev. Douglas Fitch.

Lew, of San Francisco's Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom, told roughly 250 people of all ages that true freedom requires "breaking out of the isolation of self, and recognizing that others' suffering is our own."

Fitch, who succeeded the Rev. Cecil Williams at Glide in San Francisco, observed the racially mixed crowd and exhorted the audience to celebrate the spirit that brought them together. "Our histories have paralleled each other, and we are bearing witness to that tonight."

The shared legacy of slavery was one of the seder's touchstones, according to Roland Washington, the co-founder of Project Isaiah of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which sponsored the event along with Club 18 and the Glide teen group. The 6-year-old Project Isaiah brings African-Americans and Jews together for a variety of social, cultural and business events.

"A lot of the kids of Glide really had to conceptualize the cultural similarities in their own worlds, and in their own minds," said Washington. "But when I told them about the histories of slavery and oppression…they got it."

Co-founder Brian Gaines added: "Project Isaiah was founded in the aftermath of real tensions between the two communities. So to see a program that fills up a space like this is really gratifying."

Both Giles and Washington were glad to see both teens and senior citizens at the event, saying that it marked an important departure from past events, which drew mostly middle-aged adults.

They also mentioned that the program was set to incorporate several new facets, including a joint African-American – Jewish emergency response network, (which would respond to issues such as racial profiling and the JCC shooting in Southern California), a business-to-business collaboration, and a young leadership program.

"I think we've really taken it to the next level tonight," Giles said. "I think that we're seeing a real strengthening of the bonds between the two communities."