The Passover Seder: a Night to Remember
Every year around this season in Israel, there is an awareness that our lives shift during the holiday of Passover. The changing surroundings of spring’s arrival are the first indication of the holiday, as we’re directed to celebrate Passover during the spring. Then, there is also a sense of folk participation in the holiday spirit: you can smell the detergent fumes in the air as households thoroughly clean their homes; the stores are filled with kosher le’Pesach foodstuffs (and products you wouldn’t even dare putting in your mouth, such as bleach!) for the many shoppers of the season; and the most common question people asked each other is “where are you having the Seder this year?”
Indeed, an absolute majority of Israelis (even the most secular Jews among them) celebrate the holiday by attending Passover Seders, and with so many people driving on the same night to feast with their families, the roads are more packed than ever. Though it takes us twice as long to get to our relatives, I utterly enjoy seeing the collective life of the community giving expression to this Jewish tradition. It embedded itself in me so much that I never allow myself to miss a Passover Seder, even when I am far away from home and family. A few years ago I backpacked (like many young Israelis who take time for traveling after they’re done with their military service) through Southeast Asia and stayed in Cambodia during Passover. With no Jewish Chabad Center nearby, I knew that if I wanted to keep my lifelong habit I had to do something proactive about it. Within days I hooked up with some other Westerners who were living or traveling in the area and together we celebrated a Passover Seder. Each one was responsible for some aspect or other of the organizing and, though the food wasn’t truly kosher le’Pesach, we prepared and ate some traditional Passover dishes, read the Haggadah and sang Passover songs throughout the night.
I’m not an observant Jew. I admit to skipping some major Jewish holidays and Shabbat services without having a guilty conscience. So I ask myself what it is about Passover and the Seder in particular that I so devoutly follow. Our rabbis teach that all Jews must see themselves as if they themselves had come out of Egypt. The story of the liberation granted to the Israelites as they escaped slavery in Egypt conveys a universal message that has inspired generations of people throughout history. It served us well in the darkest moments of exile as we waited for our next liberation and its living memory continues to shape our present lives and identities as Jews. Even today – when we are a free people with the huge privilege of having a sovereign state in our own historic homeland – in recalling Egypt, we are exhorted to remember that we were once slaves. It obligates us to have regard for the poor and stranger because we too were once servants and outcasts, to care for the oppressed because we too were once persecuted, and to be cautious with power because we too have suffered the perversions of another’s might.
So this year as well, I’ll sit around the table and read the same old story which is not going to be much different than last year or the year before then. The thing is, it isn’t supposed to be. The reason the tradition of retelling events from the distant past survives to this day is because these memories are still meaningful and relevant to our present lives as a collective and as individuals alike.
Roey Schiff is the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach at the Union for Reform Judaism.
Originally posted in It’s an Israel Thing.