Two Mississippi Museums hosting 50th anniversary Freedom Seder

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum display at the
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Fifty years after the first Freedom Seder was held in Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Seder will make its debut in Jackson.

The Museum of Mississippi History, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life are hosting the event on April 16 at 6 p.m., in the Craig Neilsen Auditorium of the Two Mississippi Museums.

The history and civil rights museums opened next door to each other last year.

“We are honored to host this year’s Mississippi Freedom Seder at the Two Mississippi Museums,” said Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “What better way to commemorate the original 1969 Freedom Seder that brought diverse groups of people together than to invite all Mississippians to join us at the museums where we tell the many stories of our state.”

In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated one week before Passover, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center, related that they realized the third night of Passover in 1969 would be the first anniversary of the assassination. He combined the “Saul Raskin Haggadah,” that was given to him as a Bar Mitzvah present, with writings from King, Thoreau, Gandhi, Emanuel Ringelblum of the Warsaw Ghetto, Nat Turner and others, to produce a Freedom Seder Hagaddah. That work became the model for many themed Seders used today.

The 1969 Freedom Seder, held at a Washington church on April 4, drew about 800 — half Jewish, the rest an interracial group of Christians.

“We are pleased to co-host this commemoration of the Freedom Seder, and in doing so, we remember Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, spiritual leader of Beth Israel Congregation here in Jackson,” said Michele Schipper, chief executive officer of the Institute. “His courage and commitment as an outspoken advocate of civil rights in the 1960s is an important part of our history.”

Nussbaum quietly visited those who were imprisoned for taking part in the Freedom Rides. Of the white participants, as many as half were Jewish, and he served as a conduit between them and their families.

In 1967, Beth Israel was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, and weeks later, Nussbaum’s home was also bombed. He was not injured.

Open to all, this participatory program will feature the rituals, readings, songs, and ceremonial food of the Passover tradition, which deals with liberation from slavery in Egypt and a universal message of freedom. A dinner will follow. Tickets are $30.