Juliet Teixeira of Attleboro recently attended a Seder in the Roxbury section of Boston that was held to celebrate the 10th year of a cultural connection between Cape Verdeans and the Jewish community of Boston. With today being the final day of Passover, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Freedom, we present her report on the experience.
BOSTON - What do matzah and cachupa have in common?
Matzah, unleavened bread, is typically enjoyed during Passover and cachupa is a Cape Verdean stew. For me, these are both foods that I enjoyed on special occasions and holidays while growing up. And this year I was able to enjoy both in the same evening when members of my family and I joined with 200 other Jews, Cape Verdeans and guests who came together to meet new friends, exchange stories, and enjoy a meal that included Jewish and Cape Verdean dishes at the 10th annual Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder, which was held March 25 at Hibernian Hall in the Roxbury section of Boston.
I grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester in the mid-1950s through the late 1970s in an interracial family, something which was extremely uncommon in those days. My mother is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Lithuania. My father was the grandson of immigrants from Cape Verde.
Cape Verde is an archipelago of 10 islands in Africa off the west coast of Senegal and is predominantly Catholic. Although my brothers and I were raised to learn about our heritages and to be proud of them, there was not always acceptance of my parents' marriage and our family.
I was thrilled last year when I discovered this event that celebrates both cultures, and is designed to bring these two communities together.
Never in my lifetime could I have imagined such a gathering. I was home.
This event was founded 10 years ago to build and strengthen connections between Cape Verdeans and Jews in greater Boston.
At first glance, the communities appear to be totally disparate - Cape Verdeans and Jews have different histories, cultures, religions and demographics. However, Jews and Cape Verdeans have had some common experiences, including histories of enslavement and liberation, far-flung Diasporas, the challenges of immigration to the United States, and heritages of prevailing over tremendous hardships.
And I recently learned that the connections are even closer as there were two waves of Jewish migration to Cape Verde. The first group of Jewish immigrants arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Jews emigrated from Spain and Portugal to escape persecution and the Inquisition.
The second group came in the 19th century, when Jews from Morocco were attracted by Cape Verde's strong economy. Although there is currently no practicing Jewish community in Cape Verde, vestiges of Judaism remain in some cultural practices, and there are four Jewish cemeteries that still exist on the islands. One of my father's grandmothers had told my mother there had been some Jews in her family.
As guests arrived to this year's Seder, they were encouraged to sit at a table with people they had not arrived with. Seating at the tables alternated between Cape Verdeans, Jews and other guests. The Cape Verdean-Jewish Passover Seder was structured around the Jewish holiday of Passover, which commemorates the exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt, and the Cape Verdean struggles for freedom and independence from colonial Portugal The Seder also highlighted both Jewish and Cape Verdean history and culture.
The Haggadah, the book that contains the story of Exodus and sets the order of the Seder, was written especially for this Seder and included readings, prayers and songs in English, Cape Verdean Creole and Hebrew.
A lot of lively discussions took place during the evening as participants shared their stories. Jewish and Cape Verdean teens provided performances drawing on their cultural roots. One highlight of the evening took place as Cape Verdean teens led the audience in dancing to traditional Cape Verdean music.
Although we did not sit at the same tables, it was a joy to attend this year's Seder, along with my mother, my daughters, an aunt and two cousins. We were able to celebrate an early Passover, my family's uniqueness, and make new friends.
The Cape Verdean-Jewish Seder was organized by volunteers and relied heavily on contributions so that the event could be offered free to participants.
Sponsors of this year's Seder included the Boston Workman's Circle; Brandeis University's International and Global Studies Program; the Cape Verdean Community UNIDO; the Combined Jewish Philanthropies; the Consulate General of Cape Verde, the Gilbane Building Co.; the Hillel Council of New England; the Irish International Immigrant Center; the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers; the Moishe/Kavod House of Brookline; Our Children, Our Future, Inc.; Padre Pio Charity; St. Patrick's Church of Roxbury; Temple Beth Zion; Temple Israel; the Sunday School for Jewish Studies of Newton; and the University of Massachusetts at Boston's Department of Africana Studies; UMass Boston - Department of Anthropology.
For more information, go to capeverdeanjewishseder.com.