What will it feel like this year?
Each year on Passover, we read this phrase from Haggadah: “In every generation, a person must see herself as having come forth from Egypt.”
For each generation of Jews, this command has meant something different.
Picture the Passover seders of Jews during the first Crusade of 1096, or those of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. These Jews lived under the yoke of brutal, capricious, tyrannical powers… the Pharaohs of their time. I can imagine these Jews at their tables, yearning for a day when they would find peace with their neighbors and could stay safely in their homes.
Picture the Passover seders of Jews in the 13 Colonies during the American Revolution. These Jews fought for freedom from a distant but mighty foreign power. Like the Israelites, they refused to serve a greedy overlord who benefited from their labor and their sweat, giving them nothing in return. Instead, they took destiny into their own hands, charting a course for a new type of promised land.
Picture the Passover seders of Union Jews during the Civil War. Relatively safe and free in the diaspora for the first time in 2,000 years, these Jews now fought so that those who were unjustly enslaved could share in the sacred promise of freedom.
Picture the Passover seders of Jews right before the establishment of the State of Israel on May 15th, 1948. European Jewry had been all but annihilated by the events of the Holocaust. And now, here was the opportunity for the Jewish people to rebuild ourselves in our ancient homeland — a journey from complete enslavement to ultimate freedom in the span of only a few short years.
Picture the Passover seders of American Jews during the 1960s, who fought segregation and worked to integrate schools so that all people in this country could live with dignity. Or those of the 1980s, when American Jews worked tirelessly on behalf of oppressed Soviet Jewry, ultimately succeeding in securing their rights to practice Judaism. Picture the seders of 2002, after our country had witnessed the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11.
In every generation, we read the narrative of our escape from Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, which comes from the word tzar meaning “narrow.” We see ourselves as escaping from a narrow place and making our way toward expanse and freedom.
And now picture our seders, which will take place on April 8th and 9th. To paraphrase JCP Board Member, Dr. Margrit Wiesendanger, the coronavirus is the great humanitarian crisis of our time. We are all part of the fight against this virus that is wreaking havoc upon our society. Just as the Israelites left Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, we too have abruptly halted our lives, leaving projects undone and milestones unacknowledged, in the name of securing our safety. Right now, our freedoms are restricted and many lives are on the line. We are indeed in a narrow place.
And yet, Passover comes each year to teach us — even in the toughest of times — that freedom awaits, that the Promised Land is on the horizon, and that we’re on this journey together.
During this time of social distancing, we are here to help make your holiday meaningful, so please don’t hesitate to be in touch if there’s anything you need. Please see below for a few traditions and ways to celebrate the holiday.
Stay strong, redemption awaits.