When Nihad Awad, the son of Palestinian refugees from Lydda – now the Israeli city of Lod – was growing up in the Wahdat refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, he never imagined that one day he would be sitting down with American Jews at a Passover seder in Washington, D.C.

But on April 5, the third night of Passover, there was Awad, now the executive director of CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – reading from the Haggadah, the book that tells the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

Awad had been invited to the fifth annual Jewish-Arab-Muslim Seder by Washington Area Jews for Jewish-Muslim Understanding, a small ad-hoc group made up of longtime Jewish activists for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Jews at the seder, held at the home of Jim and Jeni Vitarello in Washington’s trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood, are committed to security for Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza based on the 1967 borders.

In past years, the seder took place at a Baptist church in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Northern Virginia, hosted by Pastor Greg Loewer. Last year, it was at the ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center in Sterling, Virginia, possibly the first time a seder was ever held in a mosque. Besides Awad, Muslim immigrants from Panama, Egypt and Bangladesh also attended. . .

Awad came to the seder “to understand and be understood.” He came to learn about the culture of American Jews and to hear their version of the exodus story. He explained that the Qur’an also talks explicitly about the exodus and how Moses led the Bnai Isra’il – the Children of Israel – to freedom in the Holy Land.

He also had the opportunity to tell his story of growing up in a crowded, squalid refugee camp and attending school in a tent. “I never knew there was another world outside the refugee camp until I finally left to study engineering in Italy.”

Awad said he was “pleasantly surprised to meet American Jews who strongly believe and are attached to their faith, and recognize Palestinian suffering. Nobody should deny or dismiss what happened to Jews in Europe – nothing compares to the systematic destruction and scale of the Holocaust. Muslims and Palestinians need to hear this message loud and clear.”

“But neither can Jews minimize Palestinian suffering. We are not just numbers – Palestinians have names, a history, lives traumatized by 60 years of conflict whether it be in Gaza, Ramallah, or Washington, D.C.”


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