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BYU seder has 'all the ingredients of a good story' for national Jewish publication

Published April 25, 2011 12:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jewish Daily Forward, a national newspaper, sent a reporter to Provo this spring to cover a Passover seder — sans the wine — at Brigham Young University.

You can read Gabrielle Birkner's story here or The Tribune's own featureabout the BYU seder.

Birkner said, by email, that she was in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival and heard from sources in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about BYU religion professor Victor Ludlow's 40-year tradition of teaching Mormons and others about the Jewish Passover seder.

Intrigued, she pitched the story and her editors agreed to send Birkner, a former religion reporter for The New York Sun and editor of the Forward's website, back to Utah for the story.

The BYU seder had all the ingredients of a good story, she says: longevity, popularity and a twist.

"I'd heard about other Christian groups holding seders to connect to their Jewish roots or to commemorate The Last Supper, which many believe took place at a Passover seder. But I was fascinated to hear how many Mormons see striking similarities between the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and the Mormon journey, millennia later, from the Midwest to their own 'promised land' in Utah."

The BYU seder featured bitter herbs, salt water-dipped parsley and matzo, which is unleavened bread.

But the lyrics of "Dayenu," a song in which Jews customarily sing "about the parting of the sea, the manna from heaven, the giving of the Torah," struck a distinctly Mormon note.

They went, writes Birkner, like this:

"Had He scattered us among the nations, but not gathered us in the Rocky Mountains, dayenu; had He gathered us in the Rocky Mountains, but not given us Latter-Day Temples of our own, dayenu; had He given us Latter-Day Temples of our own, but not given us a special university, dayenu; had He given us a special university, but not a mighty basketball team, dayenu."

— Kristen Moulton