The Coastal Star

Finding Faith: Jews serving Christians an Easter mitzvah

Jack Jaiven and Wayne Barton developed the annual meal. Photo provided by Susan Stallone, Temple Beth El

By Janis Fontaine

Why would a group of Jewish people set up, serve, then clean up Easter dinner for Christians they don’t even know?

Call it a mitzvah — a kindness or a good deed in Judaism — but every year for the last 12 years, members of Temple Beth El have done exactly that for Christian families in Boca Raton’s Pearl City community.

The feast will take place again April 21 at the Wayne Barton Study Center on Northeast 14th Street. A buffet dinner is set for 12:30-3:30 p.m., and takeout is available. 

Temple Beth El’s Rabbi Greg Weisman loves the tradition. This will be his sixth year serving ham and turkey, greens and corn bread, and macaroni and cheese to hungry worshippers dressed in their Easter best.

Easter doesn’t get nearly the attention Christmas does, but it’s among the most important of all Christian holidays. Jesus may have been born on Christmas Day (or thereabouts), but his death and resurrection changed the religious landscape for the world’s 2 billion Christians.

As in 2019, most years Easter falls during Passover when Jews have strict dietary laws, so the Jewish volunteers can’t break bread with the people they serve. But the volunteers are finding more opportunities to interact and connect with people of other faiths.

“I’m proud of the move toward eating together,” Weisman said. “We serve, in part to give back, but it’s become an opportunity to talk and share with our neighbors.”

Jack Jaiven of Highland Beach suggested the Easter dinner idea to Wayne Barton 13 years ago. Jaiven had met Barton, a local legend, when Jaiven was on the board at Boca Helping Hands.

Jaiven had volunteered to help out at a Christmas event and recalled, “The community really enjoyed it and were so appreciative,” so he asked Barton about doing an Easter event. That’s all it took.

Now Barton gets most of the food, and gets kids to hand out flyers door-to-door to make sure everyone gets invited. Local churches publicize the event in their bulletins, but the people of Temple Beth El do the heavy lifting.

Because many diners come dressed in their Easter finery, an impromptu fashion show got started. Now it is one of the highlights of the day and gift cards are given as prizes. The event also has a DJ playing music, a huge Easter egg hunt, clowns, face-painting and a bounce house.

Jaiven said the Easter bunny always makes an appearance and that one year the event had two bunnies.

Apparently, the president of Temple Beth El had his heart set on dressing up as the Easter bunny. The organizers didn’t want to hurt the feelings of their long-running bunny, so they had two. Unlike two Santas, two Easter bunnies are acceptable.

And there have been other changes: “We encourage our volunteers to sit down and talk with the guests, to break bread with them, to hug them. We also invite members of the Muslim community to come and eat with us,” Jaiven said. “We believe interfaith interaction builds a stronger community.” 

Weisman agrees. The positive interaction within and among religions is one of the things he likes best about being a rabbi in Boca Raton. He sees a lot of diversity — ethnic and racial — at TBE’s Easter dinner. He sees families with small kids, elderly people, retired couples and even teenagers, all enjoying the food and each other’s company.

“We don’t get a lot of one group, we get a lot of everybody,” Weisman said.

How to Help

The Wayne Barton Study Center is at 269 NE 14th St., Boca Raton. Volunteers are needed to serve about 200 people who are expected for dinner. The event needs children to hide hundreds of Easter eggs and to distribute flyers with supervision; volunteers to carve turkeys, hams and chicken and serve the meal; and volunteers to scrub pots after the food is gone. If you can help, contact Rabbi Greg Weisman at gweisman@tbeboca.org or call 561-391-8900.

Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at janisfontaine@outlook.com.

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