The Lessons of Passover


Every year on Passover, we chronicle our triumphant liberation from Egypt and renew our pledge to welcome the stranger, as we were strangers in Egypt.

But the lessons of Passover are more profound beyond what’s on the pages of the haggadah. As area rabbis told the JT for this week’s cover story, there is an endless multitude of modern-day applications of the story.

Among the rabbis’ Passover thoughts were connecting to Jewish history, advocating for refugees and displaced communities, inspiring interfaith relationships, celebrating our relationship with God and standing up for marginalized people.

As you’ll read in the story, these ideas are ingrained in the Passover story and rooted in Jewish tradition.

This year, my family seders will be missing one crucial person — my grandma, Ruth, who passed away almost three months ago. She was a fervent supporter of Israel and a proud New York-born Jew.

I’m grateful to have had her in my life for more than 31 years and to have grown closer to her as I got older. As she was sharp until the end, we often talked about world affairs, religion, the state of journalism and any other topic under the sun. I remember explaining to her why there was uproar when the U.S. abstained from a U.N. vote that condemned Israeli settlements — as I mentioned, she was a proud Jew and supporter of Israel.

As Passover approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about her. Not only because she will be greatly missed at our seders, but also because she would greatly enjoy talk of the modern-day lessons of Passover and generally how Judaism fits into contemporary society.

I’m often reminded that her parents came here seeking a better life, as her father’s naturalization certificate hangs framed in my apartment. On Passover, as we celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people, we also celebrate the freedom we enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of those who came before us. We celebrate our freedom to think and act Jewishly.

This whole exercise of reinterpreting the Passover story is at the heart of what Rabbi Kushi Schusterman of Harford Chabad told me. “It’s not a religion as much as it’s about a relationship with God,” and, quoting his late uncle Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzy” Schwartz, “Don’t observe Judaism, celebrate Judaism. You don’t got to, you get to.”

We shouldn’t just go through the motions each year when Passover comes around; we should critically think about its teachings and how they apply to life in 2017.

I’m sure my grandmother, and the dearly departed members of any Jewish family, would take great joy in knowing that on Passover, their families are toiling over the lessons of Passover, maintaining the relevance of Judaism in the 21st century.


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