This Wednesday evening marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is a well-known fact that it is also the most celebrated of all the holidays. The observance lasts eight days during which we focus on the theme of our people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea in a hurry with little time to prepare. The first night consists of a festive meal, or Seder, when we retell the story through questions and answers, singing, eating and drinking four cups of wine. The point of this exercise is to both remind us that freedom is precious, and to teach the younger generations about our story.
One of the highlights of every Seder is the asking of The Four Questions. These questions are designed to provoke discussion and thought around the significance of the holiday. Usually asked by the youngest person at the table, the refrain is always, “Why is this night different from all other nights.” The answers to the four questions are the heart of the rest of the Seder. But the overarching theme is always: freedom.
Over the last couple of weeks, I admit I’ve engaged in bouts of self-pity. I have felt afraid for myself and my family. I have been depressed about the changes in my life. I have been angry, too, that those in leadership who could have mitigated some of the damage, did nothing. And I have felt sad and helpless. These negative thoughts and feelings are foreign to me. I am usually an optimistic person who can find fun and joy in most places. But our current state of affairs has been really tough for me to accept.
A therapist would probably say I’m moving through the stages of grief, and that’s likely the case. I know from grief. My people know from grief. Generation after generation of Jewish people have been chased around the globe, experiencing plagues, famine, Holocaust and antisemitism. And we are not alone in this. Other cultures and peoples have faced similar obstacles and discrimination. I can’t speak for the others, but I can speak for myself and my people. The one thing we do to defend ourselves against the darkness is to survive. We survive by carrying on our traditions. We survive by being joyful. We survive by telling the stories. We survive by holding tight to each other, even if it is only in memory.
Most years we host a large group of friends and family to join our Seder. I spend weeks planning and preparing the ritual foods and the traditional festive delicacies. This year, obviously, the usual crowd will not be joining us live in our home. It was with a heavy heart that a couple of weeks ago I emailed everyone to cancel. And it was at that point that I really felt the enormity of what we are dealing with today. I was also able to relate to the story of my ancestors and the challenges they faced. Personally, my world has become pretty small and my life has slowed to a pace way out of my comfort zone. But we will have our Seder. We will include my son in California via Zoom. I will make my chicken soup the way my mother taught me. My husband, who will now be home, will make the brisket. We will drink four cups of wine (really, the best part). And, we will retell the story of our exodus and our journey to freedom.
The final prayer of the Seder meal is one in which we express our hope that next year we will celebrate in Jerusalem. For me, the meaning is not to literally be in Jerusalem, although that would be amazing. I think of Jerusalem as my spiritual home, the place where I can feel free to express my faith and tradition. But my actual home, here in Nashville, is also a place where I can feel free to be myself and to enjoy life with my family and friends. So, this year when we say the prayer, I will be thinking ahead to next Passover, when I can once again open my home and share the story of our survival and freedom with 30 of our nearest and dearest. In the meantime, stay healthy, stay home and wash your hands. xo
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the current Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner. Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world. The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .
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