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How do we celebrate Passover in a year such as this?

04/20/2024 08:55:16 AM


Lara L. Giordano

Passover remains my favorite holiday, one that I look forward to with absolute delight and child-like anticipation. Perhaps because it is a holiday designed expressly for children and, when it comes to Judaism, I am still a child. Or perhaps (and not unrelatedly), it is because – in a religion defined by its devotion to dialectical education – Passover stands out  among the holidays for its educative impulse. I was once a teacher; have as a life-long practice generally been disinterested in questions of divinity; and would not have found my home in Judaism if not that, as a religion, it elevates critical conversation to spiritual status. (In Judaism, as in philosophy, this conversation takes place intergenerationally through texts commenting endlessly upon one another). A religion that identifies godliness in the pleasure to be had in talk – in the mutuality of learning and teaching that is true conversation: now that is a religion for me. So perhaps Passover is my favorite because of the caring and multiplicitious (caring because multiplicitous) pedagogy that is the Seder: from simple songs to enactments to symbolism, there is something for learners of all types.
I am also a bit of a melancholic – someone oriented more toward the past and my wishes for it than by the promises of the future. Although that is a pattern of commitment that has been disrupted by my bearing of children, which (like it or not) weds us to the future in ways unanticipated and and for which we have not asked. If child-bearing does not wholly succeed in liberating us from the unmet demands of the past, then it at least forces those demands into the background where they make themselves known obliquely in the ways that we relate to and care for our children, preparing them for what we assume adulthood as in store.
So, perhaps what I love about Passover is that it is the apotheosis of the Jewish commitment to the past and also the Jewish wisdom that justice requires the remembrance (perhaps the redemption?) of past oppression. The Pesach Seder is where Judaism announces itself most definitively as a technology of memory - a tool for making what was past present once again. During the Pesach Seder, we do not simply remember; we do not just recite an objective history. We enact – we relive – we embody – we literally eat – this past and make it present once again as and in ourselves. We tell a story of emancipation and redemption that we know was not and is not complete and, in so doing, we renew the promise of exodus.
This season however, I have found myself looking forward to Passover with less delighted anticipation than with wariness and uncertainty about how to meet the occasion. Perhaps some of you feel the same. Pesach is a holiday about hope – specifically the hope that is the necessary condition of achieving emancipation not just for the Jewish people, but for all people. It is a utopian hope – an impossible (which is also to say a divine) aspiration.
Right now and for the last 6 months, if you are Jewish (and not only if you are Jewish), it has been hard to feel hope. I believe that I speak not only for myself. Right now we confront a reality that is arguably more horrifying than that of myth. Some of us might approach our Seder tables to tell a story about emancipation, thinking about those Israelis who are still being held captive. Others of us might find the dissonance between the enactment of our Jewish commitment to the ending of oppression and the retaliation that the Jewish state has wrought on Gaza – of all the people who have died captive there and those who are still captive - simply unbearable. Some of us will hold both these things at once. And, more than likely, we will share a Seder table with folks whose preoccupations and sorrows are not aligned with our own.
If you find yourself at this impasse, you might want to read this article from Jay Michaelson (published in The Forward). Michaelson points out that even as the current catastrophe seems to belie the promise and practice of Passover, "the Pesach Seder was designed just for this." He continues:

“Modeled on the classical symposium, the rituals and texts of the evening are designed to provoke conversation, remembrance, and direct experience through narrative, song, kinesthetic ritual, even models of rabbinic exegesis, which expound on the Exodus story line by line. (As I’ve noted in these pages for 15 years now, it’s an unfortunate irony that these models of free-ranging conversation are often recited, verbatim, like magic words that one is required to utter each year.) All of this means you can “show, don’t tell” – you can use the texts and rituals of the Seder to illuminate the moral and emotional weight of the present moment.”

Some of you attended the LJCC last Wednesday to hear Dr. Avi Shilon, an Israeli by birth and a historian of Israel Studies by training. Avi's assessment was straightforward: locked in this pattern of over 100 years of Zionist-Arab conflict, there can be no peace and no security - not for Israelis and not for Palestinians. For so long, these peoples have been stranded in this calamitous historical-political moment and there is no solution to be proffered from within it. Rather what is required is an exodus, a redemption through mutual emancipation. At least, that is what I heard when Avi referred to a future Jerusalem: one that stood both as the capital of Israel and as the capital of Gaza. Now there’s a utopian vision.
So, I will say: next year all of us in Jerusalem.

I hope that your Seder table brings you succor and inspiration as it is meant to. I wish for you a Passover filled with hope.

Lara L. Giordano
Program and Engagement Director

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784