A group of us gathered around a table strewn with five different types of matzah, many bottles of wine and lots of Kosher for Pesach leftovers in the last moments of the final day of Passover. This particular feast was led by our beloved Morah Yehudis Fishman and was a “Mashiach Seudah,” a “Messiah Meal.”
The eighth day of this seven day festival of freedom is, for observant Jews living outside of Israel, a day when we traditionally read prophetic verses from Isaiah that herald a time of redemption, a Messianic era where the wolf and the lamb will lie peacefully down together. Chabad custom has introduced this final meal with another round of four cups of wine and lots more matzah along with consciousness of bringing that time of restoration of sacred bonds between us.
There was some very spirited and rich singing, with a quality of yearning for that time! How harsh and shocking, then to come out of this transcendent soul feast to the news of a shooting in a Chabad Center in Poway, California, leaving a righteous woman, Lori Kaye, dead and several injured, while they were preparing for Yizkor, a service of memory. A brutal reminder of how far away we are from that vision.
The Sunday morning after we ended that Shabbat and last day with spices, fire and sweet wine, was, as it turned out, Greek Easter. My wonderful neighbors across the street celebrate this Greek Orthodox festival and were roasting a whole lamb on a spit over an open fire. Even though, I have not eaten meat for well over twenty years, I was fascinated and very curious about this ritual feast. The lamb, Alex assured me, was very humanely raised and slaughtered and the whole family participated in this sacrificial offering.
The reason I was more intrigued than repulsed, was that it was striking to me how this religious rite of a family gathered around a roasting lamb was probably much closer to the original Pesach celebration than sitting around a seder table as most Jewish families do. Although I was not quite ready to partake, though I was offered, I did have a brilliant idea! I told them that this Easter ritual that more or less coincided with our holiday must be based on the Passover sacrifice and that they needed it to be eaten with some Matzah! My neighbors were excited by the idea and I was very grateful to find such a creative way to get rid of the stuff that I had been munching all week. They got some handmade shmurah (carefully watched over), a little spelt and an unopened box of good old Yehuda matzah. Lamb, herbs and matzah was actually the original Hillel sandwich of which we read in our retelling of the tale. Rabbi Hillel’s golden rule Torah was about basic kindness and this seemed like a good neighborly act from which we all benefited!
As I walked away proud of myself, I actually started to feel this seed of hope and possibility in these dark days. Isaiah has another vision that the rebuilt Jerusalem will be a House of Prayer for all people. There is something about learning about and sharing other traditions and rituals that feels Messianic. Before I actually saw any news stories the night before about that repugnant act of hate, I received three emails of solidarity, consolation and support from friends at the Islamic Center of Boulder. We have witnessed horrific attacks on places of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims in recent weeks and months and there is much comfort and strength to be derived from the connections that we have with our neighbors of all faiths and none, recognizing the shared heart of humanity. It is up to us to do the work of connecting and getting to know one another so that we can create the kind of world that a Messiah would visit and help us take the next steps.