I reached out to the woman behind that viral Christian Seder. She deserves compassion.
Last year, one of my Christian friends posted an infuriating picture of her Passover Seder on Instagram. Her table was set immaculately and looked light-years better than mine. That’s why it was offensive: she had the chutzpah to do it better.
In her post, she made it clear that she was celebrating Passover as a Christian because Judaism and Christianity are deeply intertwined. It is widely said that Jesus’ last supper was a Seder — even if the truth is more complicated — and as a deeply religious woman, she felt a need to honor the Jewish faith of the man she considers her Savior.
This year, I saw photos of another Christian Seder on my social feeds, in a very different context.
Carly Friesen, a homeschooling mother of four living in northern Canada, hosted a Seder in order to honor Jesus. She posted the image publicly on Facebook, after which it was screenshotted and disseminated widely. Friesen, a well-meaning but not particularly theologically knowledgeable woman, made a particular faux pas that triggered the Jews who reposted and commented upon her content: At her Seder, she served challah, and in a photo of the baking process, she appeared to have braided the challah in the shape of a cross.
(An intricately braided challah more beautiful than anything I’ve ever made — the chutzpah.)
A particular tweet about her Seder, which lies behind a now-protected Twitter account, went viral: “I think I just had a rage blackout,” the caption read. Stories on this random woman’s Christian Seder were subsequently written across the Jewish media, and even appeared in secular news sites like Yahoo, which covered the controversy under the headline “Woman posts photos of her ‘Christian Seder,’ is met with backlash from the Jewish community.”
— Jewish Light (@StLJewishLight) March 30, 2021
It was clear from the original post that this was a naive, well-meaning woman who wasn’t looking to appropriate Judaism or hurt Jews — only to acknowledge the Jewish roots of her own faith. So what was it like for her to have her name and table blasted across the internet?
I did what few others did, and messaged her to hear her side of the story. Something about the social media scandal had rubbed me the wrong way; it felt out of line with the Jewish values I treasured.
In the Passover Hagaddah, during the retelling of the Exodus story, we are introduced to the figures of four sons who represent different approaches to learning, including the one who “does not know how to ask.” The instructions we are given are not to do that child harm, but instead to “initiate him.” That, I thought, is how the Jewish community should have handled a woman who did not know how to ask.
“We definitely did not intend to offend anyone,” Friesen said, stressing that her family was not attempting to replicate a Jewish celebration of Passover. “It is different for us as Christians,” she wrote.
She also clarified that the photo of the challah-in-process only inadvertently resembled a cross; by her account, she was following a video on how to braid challah, and happened to photograph the braided dough at the point when it resembled the Christian symbol. (A photo of the final meal appears to uphold this: The challah pictured there is braided in a traditional round.)
“I now understand eating leavened bread on Passover wasn’t the proper thing to do in celebrating, but it was not my intention to offend anyone at all,” she said. “I just wanted to honor some of the Jewish roots of Christianity (since it stems from Judaism) and teach my children about some history. I had no idea this would happen and I’m deeply saddened by it all.”
Carly has never met a Jewish individual in person, she said, but after the fallout from her post, “God has really put on my heart to learn more.”
My question: What message does this pile-on send to those like Friesen, those who have never met a Jew, who don’t even know how long Passover is, or how it is traditionally celebrated?
Parts of the Jewish community demanded that Friesen understand and respect our faith. But in so doing, I saw some of my fellow Jews refusing to extend anything resembling empathy or curiosity about her or her motives before opening fire. That’s not the approach to Judaism I love.
Perhaps most galling part of the dustup was the reaction of the anonymous Twitter user who originally posted the image in the first place, and then, after it went viral, complained on Twitter, “Boy it sure would be nice if outlets would give you a heads up when they’re going to write an article about your tweet so you don’t take a nap and wake up confused about your mentions.” I bet Carly Friesen feels the same about the individual who took a screenshot of her personal Facebook profile in order to ridicule her.
There’s a famous Jewish proverb involving rumors in which a rabbi instructs a man who wants to make amends for the lashon hara, or malicious gossip, he had spread. The rabbi tells the man to cut open a pillow, wait 10 minutes, then gather every last pillow feather that had floated away. The man tells the rabbi that the task he has set before him is impossible, and the rabbi readily agrees. Just as it is impossible to gather feathers that have hit the wind, he says, so is it impossible to gather rumors once they have left your lips.
The treatment of Carly Fierson is like this feather pillow. Next time a story like hers pops up on social media, here’s hoping the Jewish community behaves with more tact and kindness.
Bethany Mandel is a frequent contributor to the Forward and an editor at Ricochet.com. You can follow her on Twitter @BethanyShondark.