Community Conversation at Brite Divinity School

Hi. I’m Susan. I’m bringing you three problems and a list.

FIRST Problem: Today a disgusting bill is going to the Texas State House of Representatives. I am unable to stand here today and not take the opportunity to tell you about it. So, please find out who your representative and your senator are. This is really easy on the web. Call them and tell them that you are against “HB 562 by Leach,” also known as “American Law for American Courts.”  If you believe in religious freedom at all, you are against this bill. It claims to prohibit the application of “foreign” laws in Texas. Nationally, advocates for this type of legislation characterize it as “anti-Sharia” or “anti-Islamic.” The legislation would restrict access to many kinds of religious mediation arrangements such as rabbinical courts, Roman Catholic diocesan tribunals, and Muslim mediation providers.

Here is the easiest way to find your representatives: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

SECOND Problem: I’ve been invited to talk with you about Passover and Exodus, but Passover is very personal to me. That’s why I’ve been invited to speak to you today. I don’t WANT to teach you about Passover from an academic point of view. Exodus is real to me, and as a teacher, as a rabbi, as a cousin, I have done everything I can to make it real to my nieces, nephews, and students. I’m 44 years old. I’ve attended at least two seders every year for 44 years. I don’t remember all of them, of course, but I have years of Passover seders echoing in my head. I’ve been to chocolate seders, women’s seders, teen seders, anarchy seders. I’ve been to a few seders with incredible singing (not with MY family). My uncles, my cousins, and I – we’ve all taken our turns leading the seder. The seders I’ve been to have challenged my feminism and my theology. The night before the Exodus feels real to me. To me, the story Exodus is real, more real than any cartoon recreation or Universal Studios tour. The seders have shaped the way I hear and feel the story of Exodus.

HERE IS THE LIST. The Haggadah, this book we use to guide us through the seder, is the best lesson plan. Passover is an excellent teacher, and I’m going to list the reasons why.

ONE: EMPATHY – Exodus 13:8 – “And you shall explain to your child on that day: ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” It tells us to empathize. I don’t think I empathize because it tells me to, but how can we tell? I can feel the story in my gut and my heart. I’ve been told that I should empathize with them, and I do. I don’t know why. Could it be because every year, twice a year, every seder, Judaism tells me to feel/be/act/speak as if I were there – waiting to be freed from bondage?

TWO: FOOD, SYMBOLS, & GAMES – Passover makes the story of the Exodus tangible. The seder plate and the symbols on it are perfect visual aids. The special foods we eat – matza, haroset, etc. – are crunchy, delicious props. Some of us invest in masks that make each of us a plague or two for Passover selfies. Some students make plague bags, but you can purchase them, too. Before computers could even do such a thing, I’ve remade the haggadah by literally cutting and pasting all of the steps and prayers and rituals, by hand. I once found a page full of Homer Simpson’s face to use for the counting of the Omer. Homer, you get it? I’ve made bingo versions of the order of the seder to keep the kids (and most adults) from rebelling. The games, the symbols, the food make Exodus real to seder participants.

THREE: REPETITION & ECHOES – It’s not just the symbols. I believe it’s also the repetition that makes Exodus tangible. If education is repetition, then Passover has it right. These famous phrases resonate with me:

With an Outstretched Arm (Exodus 6:6)

Then came a Pharoah who knew not Moses (Exodus 1:8)

My father was a wandering Aramean. (Deuteronomy 26:5)

When I hear them in Exodus or the Haggadah, I feel the story of Exodus on a level deeper than I read.

FOUR: READ THIS STORY WITH PEOPLE WHO MATTER TO YOU. My grandfather, my grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, my bubbe, I’ve heard their voices reciting the words of the seder. I’ve listened to all the nieces and nephews take their turns at the four questions.This cacophony of memory is my soundtrack for the Book of Exodus. I hear the voices of leaders who went on too long or who skipped the pages I thought were important. I can’t read Exodus or the Haggadah without hearing the voices of my parents’ parents and the voices of of my favorite rabbis and cantors.

I’M NOT HERE TO RECOMMEND THAT YOU TRY OUT PASSOVER OR BEING JEWISH.

Keeping Passover is hard.

Carrying the weight of centuries of anti-semitism is hard.

Non-Jews don’t need to try this in order to connect with Exodus.

AND NOW WE COME TO THE THIRD PROBLEM. Apparently, there is some concern over non-Jewish groups celebrating Passover with a seder. I’m not sure how someone else celebrating Passover without us would affect how Jews observe Passover, but enough rabbis, pastors, and professors are concerned that I have been thinking about this challenge as well. BUT, Friends and Pastors, I believe you can make Exodus real for your congregants and students. Here’s how:

  1. I think one solution is: You can ask us for help. Even in Texas, wherever you go, there is always someone Jewish. We can come to your congregation or your school to help you.
  2. Create an interfaith opportunity. Invite yourselves, your congregation, your students to a Jewish Passover celebration. The Jews I know would be thrilled to create some common ground.
  3. Use a haggadah. I put a bibliography at the end of this post. Use what the Haggadah brings to Exodus. Use its lesson plans. Use the games. Use the artwork.
  4. Use the guilt trip. Exodus tells us to read these words as if we ourselves got out of Egypt (Exodus 13:8). Tell your students to put themselves in the Israelites’ sandals.

Here is a Selected Bibliography of Awesome Haggadot:

A DIFFERENT NIGHT: The Family Participation Haggadah, by Noam Zion and David Dishon, Published by the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, 1997. (This is the one I use now.) Leader’s Version, Participant’s Version, Compact Version

The Women’s Haggadah – “With women, holiday begins before ceremony, with cleaning, preparation, presentation. If seder is order, that Spring of ‘75 in Haifa we changed the order. We three women – a Member of Parliament, a social worker, and I – announced somewhat hubristically that we were holding a ‘Seder of the North.’ But this would be different. The invited men would prepare the meal, serve, and clean. The women would contemplate the traditional Haggadah and write new and relevant prayers….Marcia Freedman, American-born member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, came with women’s prayers. Nomi Nimrod, social worker, composed a prayer of Miriam driven mad by losing her role as prophet. I wrote the questions of the four daughters instead of the traditional questions of the four sons.” E. M. Broner with Naomi Nimrod, Hebrew translations by Efrat Freiman. HarperSanFrancisco, 1994

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah, 1994-2000 – “Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, a program of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side. Ma’yan is a Hebrew noun meaning fountain, spring, source, or well. Ma’yan acts as a catalyst for change in the Jewish community in order to create an environment more inclusive of and responsive to women, their needs and their experiences. Ma’ayn facilitates this transformation by training and supporting advocates for change and developing and [distributing] innovative educational programs.” A companion cassette/CD recorded by Debbie Friedman (z”l) and a songbook are available through Ma’yan and Sounds Write Productions, Inc. ISBN 0-9667107-1-1 – www.mayan.org

Let Us Begin: The Sha’ar Zahav Haggadah – “Welcome to the first published edition of the Sha’ar Zahav Haggadah. This book has, in a sense, been in the process of coming to you since Congregation Sha’ar Zahav began. That beginning was a commitment to live as Jews in the world today, and to welcome all who wanted to join, whatever their sexual orientation.” Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 220 Danvers, San Francisco, CA 94114, 1996 – ISBN 0-9619242-1-7

THE SANTA CRUZ HAGGADAH: a Passover Haggadah, Coloring Book, and Journal for the Evolving Consciousness, by Karen G. R. Roekard, Nina Paley, and Paula Bottone Spencer. Published by The Hineni Consciousness Press, Berkeley, 1991. “In my Orthodox Jewish childhood, the Haggadahs that we used at our Passover Seders followed the prescribed text: my father led the Seder and did most of the reading thus following traditional practice. Once I had grasped the basic story line, it became boring. Through the years, the addition of Midrashim, of interpretations and legends, gave Passover Seders additional meaning. And yet I noticed that my connection to the Seder and to the concept of slavery was mainly through my mind and through my mouth. Over the past 20 years, with the addition of the liberation and feminist Haggadahs, a new and very exciting dimension was added. I could relate to the feminist struggle; I could relate to the anguish of Jews unable to practice their religion and to other countries wherein there was no political freedom. I noticed that in addition to my intellectual connection to the concept of Passover and the Passover Seder, I was also connected through my guts — the space of my power, or powerlessness, whichever the case was at that point in time.” – Karen G. R. Roekard (1992) – Leader’s Edition – ISBN 0-9628913-4-7 – Participant’s Edition – ISBN 0-9628913-8-X – Children’s Version – ISBN 0-9628913-0-4

A Passover Haggadah, As Commented Upon by Elie Wiesel and Illustrated by Mark Podwal. A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1993. “On this evening, all questions are not only permitted, but invited….What can we do so as not to forget the question? What can we do to defeat oblivion? What significance does Passover have, if not to keep our memories alive? To be Jewish is to assume the burden of the past, to include it in our concerns for the present and the future….Have we learned nothing?….Why is there so much hatred in the world? Why is there so much indifference to hatred, to suffering, to the anguish of others? I love Passover because for me it is a cry against indifference, a cry for compassion.” (Weisel, pages 6-7) – ISBN 0-671-73541-1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s