Passover: The Festival of Freedom

Keeping Connected  April 2019

Spring is just around the corner and we will soon be celebrating Passover, the Festival of Freedom. Pesach is a holiday that evokes differing emotions and meanings. We look forward to connecting with family and friends. We anticipate with excitement eating foods made from recipes that have been handed down through many generations of our family. Some of us love to create new family traditions that we can pass down to our children. We might set our tables with family heirlooms like silver bechers and old seder plates that belonged to grandparents or great-grandparents or we might set our tables in a dramatic manner that recalls being in Egypt. We debate whether matzah balls should be hard or light and whether we should make a traditional ashkenazic charosets versus a dried fruit and savory style version from another region of the world. Versions of haggadot also ABOUND! There is the Maxwell House that many of us grew up with and contemporary versions galore that focus on themes of social justice. There are haggadot geared to young kids and haggadot that are theme-based; yes, there is a baseball haggadah, a Harry Potter haggadah, a vegan haggadah and more!

For me, this year’s celebration of Pesach will be filled with a newly deepened sense of its core meaning; the Festival of Freedom. Over spring break, our family travelled south to Atlanta and Alabama to learn more about our nation’s civil rights history. It was a deeply moving experience. Personally, I was motivated to travel to this part of the country by the belief that with the level of divisiveness in American society today, it was important to learn more from the past. How could rifts in our nation become severe enough that they sparked the Civil War? I wanted to learn more about the scars left behind by slavery and Jim Crow and wanted to understand more about how these forces continue to ripple through America today. Also, after reading the book Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow (which is our Social Justice One Community Read book of the year) I wanted to learn more about the emerging White Nationalist movement in America. Are the beliefs that are propelling this dangerous movement into the mainstream stemming from the same unhealed forces that tore our nation apart during the Civil War? Has hate simply taken on a new form?

This year, when I sit at our family seder, I know that the memories of this trip will be close to my heart. As we recall the story of how our Hebrew ancestors experienced slavery and oppression in Egypt, I will be thinking about those who were similarly dehumanized and abused by the institution of American slavery. As we recall the gifts of liberation and freedom, I will be reminded that in every generation, Jews are commanded to continue the fight for freedom for those who are oppressed. It is why we tell this tale each and every year. Sadly, the lessons continue to be timeless.

Although this was a family trip, I was surprised by how many people followed my posts on Facebook. In light of this interest, this year during Passover, I am going to share a slideshow about our experience south. My hope is that as we look together at the sites we visited and talk about the history we learned and the conversations we had with people, we might all deepen our sense of connection to the themes of the Passover holiday. Please join me on April 24that 7:00 pm for a journey into this unique American landscape – all are welcome. Also, please join the Social Justice committee on April 30that 7:00 pm for  their One Community discussion on Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow.

Warm regards,
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry