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Shalom And Boa Noite: A Cape Verdean Seder

Aminah Pilgrim, a young Cape Verdean woman, stands before about 170 people gathered in the basement of a Catholic church in Roxbury to lead a Jewish Seder in Cape Verdean Creole.

It seems incongruous. What do Cape Verdeans have to do with Jews? But Joel Schwartz, who started the joint Passover four years ago, says the two communities have more in common than first thought.

JOEL SCHWARTZ: There is a real genetic connection between us, because maybe as many as 30 percent — that's a guess — of Cape Verdeans have Jewish ancestors.

Schwartz works with the Cape Verdean community and was surprised to learn there were two waves of Jewish immigration to the islands off the coast of West Africa.

Jews fled persecution in Portugal and Morocco in the 15th, 16th and 19th centuries. There are still cemeteries on the islands with tombstones that have Stars of David and Hebrew inscriptions.

At this Seder, there is one Cape Verdean Jew and about six Cape Verdeans who think they have Jewish ancestry. One of them is Geneva Seerattan from Scituate.

GENEVA SERRATTAN: I've always loved the Jewish faith, it's just something. I see a man walking by with a yarmalke and I want automatically to follow him. My daughter has a fit, especially in New York.

Massachusetts is estimated to have about 38,000 Cape Verdeans. The early Passover dinner drew Cape Verdeans and Jews from all parts of the state.

Judy Jarashow heard about the Seder at her temple in Newton. She says it shows how the Passover themes apply to both cultures.

JUDY JARASHOW: I think it speaks to any immigrant community who has been expelled, whether economic or political from their home country, who had to start anew in a new land.

The main religion among Cape Verdeans is Catholicism, but that doesn't prevent members of the community from coming together to enjoy praying, eating and singing in the Jewish tradition of Passover.

Participants followed the Seder using a Haggadah written in English, Hebrew and Cape Verdean Creole, a language based in Portuguese. It followed the traditional format, including the reading of the plagues.

This year's gathering is particularly poignant because of a brutal murder in January of three Cape Verdeans living in Brockton. The alleged killer is believed to be a white supremacist who was also planning to kill Jews on that day.

Aminah Pilgrim, the co-leader of the Seder, is also a community leader at the Cape Verdean Association in Brockton.

AMINAH PILGRIM: In light of the fact that both of our communities needed some healing after that tragedy, this event serves that purpose.

At the end of the Seder, Jews and Cape Verdeans turned to each other and said Shalom and Boa Noite.

This program aired on April 8, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Monica Brady-Myerov Twitter Reporter
Monica Brady-Myerov was formerly a report in WBUR's newsroom.

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