We eat apples with honey, hear the sound of the shofar and celebrate the birth of the world on Rosh Hashanah. We fast, atone for our sins and vow to change our ways on Yom Kippur. We build, decorate and dine in a sukkah – and shake a lulav and etrog – to bring people together to remember our life as a people in the desert on Sukkot. And of course, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Tu B’Shvat and Purim have their own unique symbols, rituals and messages as well.
Passover, however, is different from the other holidays. To celebrate it properly – in a meaningful way – much planning and thoughtful attention to detail is required.
It is a pity that the main focus of Passover has always been on the food. My Conservative brother-the-rabbi and a group of dedicated congregants studied for almost a year the issues surrounding kitnyot – whether or not to eat certain beans and legumes during the holiday. The grocery stores have displayed expensive Kosher-for-Passover food for weeks. (Did you know that matzah now comes in a variety of flavors?) A friend recently pointed out that foodies are going to greater lengths than ever to “cheat God” with new gluten-free recipes and delicacies. And, my overworked and already exhausted traditional mother has spent days and days preparing in advance the dishes for two nights of Seder.
For me, Passover – which begins Monday night – really is not about the food at all. I believe the most important part is The Story; the retelling of the mass exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in their Promised Land. The Haggadah from which we read is the tool that sets the stage for the re-enactment of the saga and tees up the discussion of key underlying concepts and issues. It poses questions overland over… “why…why…why…why” along with the implied “how did we get HERE” and “what now.” Its format seeks to engage everyone present – young and old alike – regardless of background, experience or knowledge level.
The Seder offers a unique opportunity – at home – to teach and learn together. It’s a rare chance for different generations to share with each other their hopes, fears and dreams. I believe it is imperative to get to know the audience around the table with an open mind and to challenge them. We must push each other to think, discuss, explore and engage with the various representations of slavery, freedom, community, and leadership in our lives – from the past to today. In my opinion, the future of the Jewish people – our values and our deeds – rests upon the quality, value and content of the Seder experience.
I was thrilled by the chance to discuss a different type of Haggadah and approach with my brother a couple of weeks ago. For the first time in a very long time, most of our immediate family will be together for Passover, including our grandparents, our parents, one of our sisters and our respective broods, plus some cousins. We hope to create a cross-generational dialogue that we’ve never had before. I hope it becomes a memory that will inform years to come.
As Passover begins, there is a lovely ritual; the act of bidikat chametz. We darken the room and, with the aid of a candle and a feather, look for final crumbs of bread. The glow and eminating shadows enable us to see things differently…even to see the previously unseen. This year, may our Seders so too illuminate the potential for new ideas and new paths to pursue.