Spotted in Jewish DMV: 2 for Seder

by Samuel Milligan / March 28, 2023

Created by Marnie Fienberg in 2019, 2 for Seder has spent the last few years working to fight antisemitism through the power of relationship-building and community-strengthening Passover Seder experiences. 2 for Seder encourages hosts to invite two people of different religious backgrounds to their first seders, offering opportunities to build solidarity across faiths through participation in deeply meaningful Jewish ritual. 2 for Seder provides resources, reading, and guidance for folks looking to host seders.

In this conversation, GatherDC talks with founder Marnie Fienberg about the organization’s inspiration, the power of an individual relationship, and 2 for Seder’s future plans!

Marnie Fienberg speaks at the NoVA Community Seder in March 2023.

Samuel: Hi Marnie! Thank you so much for talking with me this afternoon. Tell me about what 2 for Seder has coming up for Passover 2023!

Marnie: I’m really happy about this year. Obviously, Covid blew up 2 for Seder because it’s all about getting people to come to your homes for your home seder. This is the first year [since 2020] where the real majority of people are comfortable with that. We have people who are hosting, people going to their parents’ or their kids’ houses, and they bring other people with them. It’s really great. 

This is also the first year that we tried out a Community 2 for Seder at the Pozez Jewish Community Center in Northern Virginia. The event went really well, with Gather’s own Sarah Fredrick leading an interfaith group of more than 100 in song. It was wonderful meeting all the Gather folks at the table. I’m so humbled by all the work that went into it and all the smiles from the crowd.

The cover of 2 for Seder's Guest Kit. Samuel: You mentioned Covid, which obviously necessitated a lot of changes in how people celebrated Passover – are there any other shifts you’ve seen in the past few years with how people engage with the holiday? 

Marnie: I have to say: much less than you would think! Last year and this year, we’ve seen a lot of people going back to the traditions they love and the traditions they missed. What really makes me almost come to tears is seeing 2 for Seder being woven into those family traditions. The idea that we’re going to push back against antisemitism, but do it through the joy of Judaism – that is exactly what we’re trying to do. The idea that you invite two new people each year, that’s the key. You affect more and more people. 

One of the wonderful things about 2 for Seder is that it can become a part of all these different, widespread traditions. We’re not dictating what people should do at their seders – we’re just asking that you bring people to experience it. Your seder is yours. Whatever you do, that’s perfect. I can’t improve on it. 

Samuel: Why does 2 for Seder ask people to invite folks from other faiths to seders?

Marnie: There have been a number of studies by interfaith groups showing that when you go and experience another culture – not just hear about it or ask questions, but experience it – you are much more likely to form a positive opinion. I have to be clear – we’re not talking about skinheads changing their opinions. But, a lot of Americans don’t think that they’ve ever met a Jew before in person. If you take someone in your life and say: Hey, I’d love for you to come to my seder…they can have that experience and move from a place of not knowing a lot about Judaism towards becoming an ally. 

Marnie holds a 2 for Seder haggadah. Samuel: What moved you to begin this work? 

Marnie: My mother-in-law was murdered at the Tree of Life shooting in 2018. I was devastated and could hardly function, but I really, really felt the need to do something. I thought there would be this wave of hate, and that I’d be burdened by it. But, funny enough, the opposite happened. At the shiva, there were thousands of people from all walks of life, all faiths, all backgrounds, and they were all saying the same two things: First, what can I do to help? Second, that this is not Pittsburgh, this is not the way things should be. 

Thousands of people saying that to you over and over again makes a difference. Our neighbors raised us up. I thought: There’s something here, and we need to capture it. I thought about my mother-in-law, Joyce. My father-in-law was a professor and Joyce was a researcher so, every Jewish holiday, she always had students coming in from university. Students from all different walks of life. We’d always have these amazing conversations around the table. It was so special and she always worked so hard to make that happen. 

That’s where I started. Joyce is always the heart of everything we do. It’s always about Joyce’s spirit and who she was: generous, bending herself into a pretzel to make you feel at home. And that’s what we all do on Passover. [The creation of 2 for Seder] spoke to a need at the time, and I think it still speaks to a need now. We know big organizations are doing their thing – but what can I do? I can do this. This is a tikkun olam sort of mitzvah. This is something I can do. 

Giveaway buttons at the Community Seder. Samuel: Was there a moment where you became sure that 2 for Seder was making a positive difference? 

Marnie: In 2019, as soon as the seders started happening, people were saying that things were good, and I was really excited. Then Poway happened. As someone who’s been through trauma, Poway was unquestionably a triggering incident for me. I thought I was done. I was going to shut it all down. Luckily, my business partner said, “Let’s wait for the survey.” We had sent a survey out to people who’d held seders, asking how things went, what they did, what the impacts were, and whether they would do it again, given the circumstances in the world. 

We got, if I recall correctly, a ninety percent response rate. I’d never seen anything like it in my whole life. Not only that, every single response – except for one, who wasn’t sure – was absolutely positive. They said: You need to run this again. It was absolutely overwhelming, to the point that I started to think that maybe this is making a difference. People feel like they are making a difference. It keeps me going all the time. This is for the Jewish community, as my little, tiny contribution to maybe help move things in the right direction.

Sarah Fredrick sings at the Community Seder.

Samuel: What comes next for 2 for Seder? How do you keep building on the work you’re doing now?

Marnie: Let me get through 2023 first! Our community seder is a labor of love, but it is a huge amount of work – it’s like putting on a wedding or bat mitzvah! Would we expand that model outside of the DMV? Oh my gosh, I don’t know. It’s difficult from a funding perspective because, as an organization, we’re national, voluntary, and grassroots. It can be hard to quantify the impact of the work we’re doing. We’ll see what happens in the next year. Right now, we’re just blessed by individuals – giving $8, $18, or $118. People are so generous, and I’m just floored every time. I’m really grateful. 

Samuel: We often end interviews asking people about Shabbat dinner guests, but I’ll modify a bit here: If you could bring any three people to your Passover Seder, who are they? 

Marnie: Let me start with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is a personal hero of mine, not just for being a Jewish woman but also for always being creative, and sensitive to other people, and never stopping pushing to make the world a better place. Next…Abraham Lincoln. He changed the world because he had a vision, also to make this world a better and more equal place. 

And, of course, the third person would be Joyce.

A group of people (including some Gather folks!) pose and smile at the NoVA Community Seder.

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