26 March 2021
To me, Passover is a ritual with the perfect blend of continuity and innovation.
Indeed, many of us find comfort in Passover’s familiar structure. Every year, Jews around the world gather with loved ones to relive the Passover story and relish in traditional texts, songs, and flavors. And though we celebrate in our own homes, many point to Passover as a moment when they feel most connected to Jewish peoplehood—time and distance seem to blur in such a way that our past doesn’t seem so long ago and the space between us doesn’t seem so far.
And yet, Passover’s magic is as much about what stays the same as what differs from year to year. We are commanded to recount the story of our exodus from Egypt, but how exactly we do this is up to us. Maybe it means creating a tent in our living room or dressing up in costume. Or maybe it is about forming entirely new traditions. This year, for instance, we are each bringing our own personal kryptonite to serve as a bitter herb (for my brother-in-law it is cilantro, for me it is dried coconut.) Whatever form our celebrations take, the ritual of Passover is made whole by what we, as families, create together.
If our Zoom seders have taught us anything, it is that even stripped down to its essence, Passover retains its meaning. We are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of teaching the next generation what it means to be free. We are at once stewards of the Jewish narrative and custodians of a universal tale of liberation. The journey from slavery to freedom is a chapter of our history we share with so many others, and by revisiting it as a lived experience in our own lives, we fulfill the commandment. The matzah balls are optional.
Perhaps that is Passover’s secret sauce—it puts us in the driver’s seat and empowers us to take ownership of a fundamental Jewish experience. It is no wonder that the Haggadah is the most re-written text in the Jewish anthology. There are countless ways to bring our escape from Mitzrayim, “the narrow place,” to life. This year, of course, we still may not be able to gather with our family and friends. But if there was ever a time to reflect on what we have endured in the past and what role we have to play in building a more just world in the future, then surely it is right now.
To quote one of my favorites, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, “To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope. Every ritual, every command, every syllable of the Jewish story is a protest against escapism, resignation, and the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism, the religion of the free God, is a religion of freedom. Jewish faith is written in the future tense. It is belief in a future that is not yet but could be…”
Here is to laying the groundwork of what could be, each in our own way. Shabbat Shalom and wishing you a happy and healthy Passover.
Next year in Jerusalem and in the company of our loved ones,
P.S. In celebration of Passover and in an effort to give our incredibly hardworking team some much needed rest, Federation will be closed from Monday, March 29th – Friday, April 2nd. I will be back with my next reflection on Friday, April 9th.