June 26, 2019
Since he was in college, Mike Masserman (Tech '15) has been hosting his annual “Pass-Mass” or Passover Masserman style. We sat down with Mike to learn about what topics inspired this year's seder and how the tradition began.
REALITY: What inspired your annual Seder?
Mike: I started it in college. There were a lot of us who didn't have family near us at the University of Michigan. My dad and I shared a love for Passover, but I especially loved all the storytelling and celebrating. I ended up coming up with my own version of the Haggadah and invited a diverse array of friends to join. I asked everyone to go around and give a toast about what freedom meant to them or a time they struggled for freedom. That is what inspired “Pass-Mass,” as I call it—Passover Masserman style.
REALITY: How did you take this concept and make it happen for the REALITY alumni community?
Mike: We invited alumni from the REALITY community who are song leaders, so we had guitars for Havdalah, and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” and we ended with “Hallelujah.” There were a lot of people from the REALITY community who I didn't know that well, and we asked people to share some pretty serious things about their families, themselves and about freedom — some of the stories were just incredible! We took some of the small group magic from the REALITY journey sharing really intimate, personal, vulnerable parts of yourself and did it at a much bigger scale, community wide, resulting in something really incredible.
REALITY: Can you tell us about the event?
Mike: The venue was incredible. This place called Manny's in San Francisco. It is a civic space created to host discussions on various political and civic topic and as a space for all kinds of dialogue. In a time when I believe we are lacking spaces that really bring forth compassion, empathy, respect and dignity — that's exactly what Manny is doing. We lived up to the location in having those tough conversations about health care, education, criminal justice, even things like Islamophobia and Antisemitism. This space and these dialogues I felt really embodied the values of REALITY around diversity and inclusion, empowerment, equality and justice and having it all really rooted in the foundation of Jewish values.
REALITY: Tell us more about the themes of your seder.
Mike: My great grandparents escaped persecution in Poland and Russia to go to Israel and America. Their stories of freedom are amazing and what they wanted was for us to have a better life. In this light, I framed the night with four themes: remembering, reflecting, retelling and rejoicing.
We set the tone by remembering. I went around and I asked everyone to say where their grandparents were from originally. I then asked people to reflect on what their story means, on what their freedom means and on what the freedom of those who might not have freedom right now means. I then asked people to retell. The whole night had a big focus on storytelling. Lastly, I asked people to rejoice, because what do all these people who struggled for freedom want for us? They want us to celebrate and enjoy our lives and relish in the freedoms that we have, but still acknowledge the struggles that are ongoing and the struggles that other people went through to make our freedom possible.
REALITY: What are some moments that stood out to you from the evening?
Mike: It was a serious, reflective, community building night, and a night with a lot of humor and really funny stories. There were powerful moments of people telling stories of fathers marching with Mahatma Gandhi, and one women's story of coming out to her parents and the freedom of her parents to be disappointed in her for being gay. Another person talked about their mother who was a physical therapist who now has arthritis and can't do the things that she used to do and how it effects her job — his freedom to be sad for his mom and her freedom to persevere.
REALITY: We heard that it was an epic meal. What was special about the food?
Mike: The food we enjoyed was unbelievable. It was from Farming Hope, a nonprofit started by this chef who teaches people who are formerly homeless and people experiencing homelessness who don't have jobs or specific skills, how to cook. When the chef spoke about what freedom meant to him, he mentioned the freedom to have a home and skills and the freedom to teach people how to acquire those things for themselves. It was a really amazing way to start of the night.
REALITY: Tell us about who was around the table?
Mike: We had so many people from different journeys, people who just returned from new journeys, ROI folks, people from Impact, it was in San Francisco so we had Tech and Storytellers. Rose Jackson (Impact '17) and Gal Friedman (ROI) were our music folks, and they are just so musically talented, it was incredible.
REALITY: What guidance would you give to alumni to host their own events?
Mike: The bottom line is no matter what you're going to do, you absolutely will not have to do it alone. The number of really cool people who are willing to help you is unbelievable. We are a part of a community of people who are not just consumers, they are doers, they make things happen.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.