Participation in a Seder is more common among Jewish Americans than any other practice; more than the observance of the fast on Yom Kippur (just over half of American Jews) or usually lighting Shabbat candles (23%). The last Pew survey found that more than 70% of the American Jewish community takes part in a Seder (vs 93% of Israeli Jews).
For the 70% of us, the last two years was a bitter disappointment, Passover wise. A Zoom Seder hardly supplanted gathering together.
This Passover we have much to be thankful for as we can gather in-person for Seder. As we sit together at our tables, we can all be thankful for the people we love, and all that makes our lives meaningful.
I suspect that there will be a few new additions to the traditional Seder plate in some houses. Many families have taken to adding symbols that represent and acknowledge modern liberation struggles such as:
Olives - to represent the olive branch as a symbol of peace (especially poignant with the war in Ukraine);
Fair trade chocolate, coffee or cocoa beans - to focus on forced child labor in the harvest industries around the world;
Potatoes - to remember the Ethiopian Aliyah to Israel when the refugee Jews couldn’t stomach modern food they ate boiled potatoes. It represents the continuous exodus of Jews escaping oppression.
And there are many other additions/traditions that people have created.
In our family, we have a miniature State of Liberty in the middle of the table. It represents the freedoms that our democracy provides. It is a version of what I grew up with….our Seder always ended with a robust singing of God Bless America, just before Next Year in Jerusalem.
While all of my grandparents were born in this country, they never took freedom for granted as their families came from Russia, Poland, Austria, and Hungary.
This year, as we read the story of our ancestors’ redemption from Egyptian slavery, we can’t help but realize that oppression continues around the globe in our time, and most notably, right now in Ukraine.
With humanitarian crises growing around the world (it is estimated that 84 million men, women, and children have been displaced by crises around the world), global warming and climate change, food insecurity, economic hardship, intolerance, xenophobia, Antisemitism, and the loneliness and isolation made even more poignant with the Pandemic – it has never been more important for each one of us to realize that change will only happen if we each make the decision to help and make a difference.
As we read tonight, “Each person should see themselves as if they personally went forth from Egypt,” meaning each of us should understand the struggles of our ancestors as our struggle as we focus our empathy toward others in need.
And as much as it is easy to turn inward, to focus on the self, to become preoccupied with our own challenges in our day to day lives (especially over the past two years), Judaism teaches us that one of the best ways to deal with our own difficulties is to refocus our energy on helping others.
We cannot take it for granted that freedom and democracy will endure. We, as Jews know as well as anyone, what happens when people do not stand up for what is right.
I will be thinking about Ukrainians and reflecting on their strength and resiliency, fighting for their lives and their country.
I will be reflecting on the generosity of our Savannah community in contributing to the welfare of those brave fighters and the millions of refugees/displaced persons.
I will be remembering that “in every generation there are those who will rise up and try to destroy us.”
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach (Happy Passover),