We have just begun the celebration of Passover, with two Seders dedicated to sharing the story of our exodus from the land of Egypt. As we all know, this is a story of freedom and strength and we use this holiday to share messages, as well, of hope and renewal. Unlike other holidays, our service is held at the dinner table, with symbolic foods, rituals and a festive meal. Despite the matzo crumbs that I am constantly chasing throughout the holiday, Passover is, and always has been, my favorite holiday.
We talk at the Seder table of our symbols of the holiday, of the greens that represent rebirth and spring, of the bitter herbs that symbolize tears, charoset to symbolize mortar and the shank bone to represent the Paschal lamb. The Seder plate item that I’ve thought about most this year is that of the roasted egg. The egg stands for so many things for new life, for continuity, the circular shape a symbol of the circular path of our lives, from beginning to end.
Passover marks our passage around that circle of our lives. We repeat the rituals from year to year. We eat the ceremonial foods, we tell the stories and we unite with families to pass the story of freedom and courage from generation to generation.
As a child, we had one Seder at my grandmother’s every year. My mother’s large family was gathered and we kids, often six or more of us, were at the “kid’s table” tucked into the separation between the dining room and the living room. We listened, we didn’t listen, we talked, we laughed and, most of all, we built bonds that endure. The other Seder was at my parent’s home, sometimes with guests and sometimes with just the four of us.
My mother would fret, as she always did, about some item she was cooking, convinced it was not going to come out alright. Of course it was always perfect. And my dad would conduct the Seder in Hebrew, reading every word so that the service seemed to take forever and yet chanting fast enough that our Hebrew School education did not allow us to keep up. My brother and I would scan the pages trying to figure out where he was in the Haggadah, one finger secured in the spot that noted that dinner would be served.
Today we are blessed to celebrate our Seders with family, friends and many of the elders with whom I am privileged to work. The Seders we host or participate in are largely in English, meant to be inclusive and approachable with a real concerted effort to engage the children. The story that we tell is told in such a way that they understand and sometimes we even supplement that understanding with props like masks or even small stuffed toys for the plagues.
Nowhere is this circle more evident than with our older adults. They tell us stories of their own youthful Seders, of the one they conducted as adults, of the meals and treats they ate and those that they prepared. But one thing remains constant in every recollection, that as children we learned and as adults we shared, that we built and celebrated relationships and family with every recitation of the Four Questions or cup of wine.
Every year we say “Next year in Jerusalem.” What a lovely and meaningful aspiration that is and yet, I think an equally important sentiment is “Next year. Together as a family, as friends, as a community.”