Tag Archives: Passover

Passover Seder in Baltimore

IMG_20170418_191901232

Tonight I joined a Passover Seder in Baltimore where Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered to read and sing the Haggadah prepared by Jewish Voice for Peace.

As I understand it, this is a very special ritual for Jews to retell the story of how God liberated them from slavery and oppression under the Pharaohs in Egypt nearly 3000 years ago.

220px-Charlton_Heston_in_The_Ten_Commandments_film_trailer

Moses parting the Red Sea

This time we cannot cross until we carry each other, all of us refugees. All of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel. Trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other. Our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between. Until there are no enemies left. Because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none. – Aurora Levins Morales

Many of us did not know each other before we sat down together tonight. We shared some of the social actions we’ve been working on — stopping an anti-BDS bill; passing a fracking ban; working on transgender issues; and others.

Tonight we have a powerful group of people gathering around this table telling the Exodus story as one way to gain a deeper understanding of oppression and refuel our work for liberation in our time. We are involved in many struggles, in our local communities and around the world, all intersecting and inseparable.

After we raised the first cup of wine (Kadesh) to education, we washed our hands before eating a green vegetable which we dipped in salt water (Karpas).

We dip a spring vegetable into salt water — the spring vegetable reminding us of potential and promise and the salt water reminding us of the tears and the pain along the way. This is an invitation to hold complexity — a reminder that change is possible even in what seems like endless darkness. As you dip the green vegetable into the salt water, affirm for yourself the potential for justice even as we hold the tears of oppression.

Then we broke the matzah.

IMG_20170418_192513254

Systems of oppression break our world in so many ways large and small. They shatter bodies, families, communities, sometimes whole nations. The militarism we spread at home and abroad unleashes forces we cannot fathom or control. Rarely do we stop to comtemplate our own complicity in systems that wreak havoc in our name.

As we break the matzoh now, we ask ourselves: how do we benefit from the perpetuation of oppressive systems? What are we willing to do about it? And where might we start?

What is broken can never be what it once was. But it can be repaired.

I was really struck by the relevance of the words in this Haggadah to our world today.

As we begin the Exodus story, we read that the oppression of the Israelites resulted from Pharaoh’s fear that their growth would somehow overwhelm the Egyptian nation. These verses certainly have an ominous resonance for the Jewish people. Indeed any member of a minority faith or ethnic group knows all too well the tragedy that inevitably ensues when a nation views their demographic growth as a “threat”.

Today it is all too common to hear Israel’s leaders and supporters suggest that the “Jewish character” of Israel is threatened by the demographic growth of the Palestinian people. How should we react to the suggestion that the mere fact of this group’s growth necessarily poses a national threat to Israel? As Jews living in the Diaspora, how would we respond if our leaders raised questions about the “demographic threat” of a particular minority group to the “national character” of our country? In a multi-ethnic society, can a state’s identity ever be predicated upon the primacy of one ethnic group without the oppression of another?

Memories of Gaza flooded me, especially the olive harvest, as we read from this Haggadah.

The olive tree is one of the first plants mentioned in the Torah and remains among the oldest species in Israel/Palestine. It has become a universal symbol of peace and hope, as it is written in Psalm 52: “I am like a thriving olive tree in God’s house, I trust in God’s loyal kindness forever and ever.” We add this olive to our seder plate as a reminder that we must all be God’s bearers of peace and hope in the world.

At the same time, we eat this olive in sorrow, mindful that olive trees, the source of livelihood for Palestinian farmers, are regularly chopped down, burned and uprooted by Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities. As we look on, Israel pursues systematic policies that increasingly deny Palestinians access to olive orchards that have belonged to them for generations. As we eat now, we ask one another: How will we, as Jews, bear witness to the unjust actions committed in our name? Will these olives inspire us to be bearers of peace and hope for Palestinians — and for all who are oppressed?

The four questions followed, with each of us taking turns reading from the Haggadah. Then the Ten Plagues.  We raised a second cup of wine to solidarity!  Haggadah_15th_cent

Solidarity is hard work. It requires ongoing self-reflection, clear accountability structures, continual learning and critical thinking. Also: humility, empathy, commitment, hope and love. True solidarity unites communities with different levels of oppression and privilege in the common struggle for liberation. It involves community building, support in struggle, awareness of our own relationship to different forms of oppression, and commitment to action that is accountable to those most directly affected by injustice.

So as we join together tonight to celebrate liberation, we recommit to struggling together for a world where everybody can have their voices heard.

We raise our glass and re-ignite our commitment to the work, responsibility and the joy of solidarity.

L’chayim to solidarity!

Jews will find the following rituals familiar, but it was a first for many at this Seder.

Rach’tzah: washing hands before eating matzah

Motzi & Matzah: blessing over matzah as food and as a special mitzvah

Maror: eating the bitter herbs

Korech: eating a sandwich of haroset & bitter herbs

Shulchan Orech: Then we shared the potluck dishes that everyone contributed.

Tzafun: eating the afikomen

Barech: grace after meal

Third Cup of Wine – L’chayim to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions!

IMG_20170418_202440734

 

In the long and varied history of Jewish experience, we are inspired by those who have resisted injustice and fought for freedom. At JVP, we strive to live up to those values and extend that history. This is why we proudly support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government:

Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real. By supporting the Palestinian call, we follow in the footsteps of those who supported similar calls to support struggles in the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa. In so doing, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all.

As we raise our third cup of wine, let us rededicate ourselves to the call!

Hallel: praise — torgether we sing songs of peace & hope.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev

Lo yilmedu od milchama

Nation shall not war against nation,

and they shall study war no more.

And then it was my turn to read from the Haggadah when we raised the fourth cup of wine to community. It was absolutely the perfect spot for me. Very meaningful!

We come together to envision the world we want to live in: a world where every individual has the right to self-determination by participating in shaping our future together. In this world, we look out and care for one another; we practice trust and kindness; we respect each other’s personal (physical and emotional) space; we lend an ear or ask for a helping hand; we believe that everyone comes to do this work with good intent; and, we hold each other accountable when we err.

We will affirm each other in our spectrum of identities. We will model our shared vision of the world by creating a space that is safe, inclusive and supportive as possible for all of us. This includes having thoughtful coversations with each other if/when we hear language used pejoratively or language that perpetuates stereotypes. We all feel the stress of the present state of affairs, and it is physically and emotionally draining. Though it is sometimes difficult to see, we know there is a rainbow on the other side of the storm cloud of injustice; if we didn’t know this, we wouldn’t be participants in the movement for peace and justice. It is because of the rainbow, not the storm cloud, that we act. We raise the fourth cup to the rainbow.

(Adapted from the JVP 2011 National Membership Meeting: Building a Community of Respect and Trust, a note from Stefanie Brendler, JVP Board member)

L’chayim to community!

Nirtzah: Conclusion

Next year in Jerusalem! Next year in al-Quds! Next year in a City of Peace!

IMG_20170418_195845571

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Israel, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion

A question about Passover

I am not Jewish …. not Muslim …. and perhaps only nominally a Christian.  I live my life by trying my best to follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others as I wish they would treat me.”  The Golden Rule can be found in every religion. I have learned a lot about how to live by the Golden Rule during my visit to Gaza.

I don’t profess to have a deep understanding of the Passover Seder, maybe not even a superficial understanding.  But Rabbi Michael Lerner’s words resonate with me.  Lerner is the founder of Tikkun in the United States.

I once found his words so compelling that I ordered many extra copies of the Tikkun Magazine and when they arrived, I mailed copies to many members of Congress with a personal letter.  I wonder if anyone read it.

This month Rabbi Lerner has written an important supplement to the Passover Haggadah, available here.  I have copied a portion of it below, followed by my question to Jews who are celebrating Passover this week.

One of the most frequently repeated commands (mitzvah) in the Torah goes something like: “When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger. Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Indeed, it commands us positively: thou shalt love the stranger.

We cannot turn this Seder into a meaningless ritual by ignoring the ways in which we, the Jewish people, have been acting as Pharaoh to another people.

Yet we also have to approach these issues with a high degree of compassion, both for Israelis and for Palestinians. The two peoples have co-created the current mess.

As Jews, we have a special responsibility for Israel’s role as long as we allow Israel to claim to be “the State of the Jewish people,” and as long as we allow American Jewish organizations to give blind loyalty to whatever policy is presented to the world by the Israeli government. Unless each of us has actively involved ourselves in building organizations like Tikkun, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, or some equivalent, we must share some of the blame for what other Jews have done in building organizations and media that express blind loyalty to the Israeli government. Many of us say that we are pro-Israel but not pro-its-current-policies. But unless we’ve put our money and our time behind efforts to create an alternative voice, we share some of the responsibility for what is being done in our name by the leadership of the American Jewish community and by the State of Israel.

Lerner-Editorial-13

But while Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is unacceptable to us as Jews, a fuller account points to horrific acts of violence and human rights violations by Palestinians as well. We should not accept attempts by others to make Israel the sole villain in this story without acknowledging the ways that Palestinians, surrounding Arab states, and the entire world have acted irresponsibly and sometimes cruelly toward the Jewish people, and how that has contributed to the political intransigence and self-destructive and immoral policies of the government of Israel. In critiquing Israel, we do not seek to delegitimize its existence or its many humane accomplishments in other spheres and important contributions to the well-being of people around the world. Nor will we play into the notion that Israel is the worst human rights violator on the planet—it is not, though sometimes others talk as though it were.

Yet, since we are Jews celebrating Passover, and we do feel a special responsibility for Israel, it becomes appropriate to not hide behind the unfairness of others—our task is still to fight for liberation for all peoples, and that includes the liberation of the Palestinian people from the domination inflicted upon them by Israel.

Let’s acknowledge that both sides are suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder so acute that they cannot recognize the humanity of the other, nor can they see their way to the peace and justice both legitimately seek. Both have been victims of a horrendous history of oppression. So while we as Jews have a responsibility to challenge our own people’s distorted vision, we have to mix that challenge with a high level of love and caring for our people, and recognize that our people need healing, not just chastisement.

We have to acknowledge that some Israeli intransigence is rooted in genuine fear that has been reinforced by terrorist attacks and by Hamas’s bombing of Israeli cities, just as much Palestinian intransigence is rooted in the daily violence imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation, as well as by Israel’s targeted assassinations, its killing of hundreds of civilians, and its jailing of tens of thousands of Palestinians, who are often imprisoned without formal charges. Because our people has vastly more military power than the Palestinians, we must mix our compassion with a firm commitment to end the Occupation. Its inevitable consequences of human rights violations and its hatred-generating behavior have, in turn, already ensured that there will be generations of Palestinians who will feel justified in acts of terrorism and hatred against our people. Both peoples need healing, and that can only happen when there is both a genuine peace accord that brings justice to the Palestinian people and also a fundamental change in the dominant paradigm of thought so that our people become the embodiment of Torah values of love, generosity, repentance, and forgiveness. We must escape the “blame game” of who did what to whom and focus on how we can embody more love and compassion for both sides of this struggle.

My question to my Jewish friends and family.  Do you think the “dominant paradigm of thought” that Rabbi Lerner writes about above can be changed — and if so, what is the role or responsibility of American Jews in changing it?

Leave a comment

Filed under Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion

My Passover Seder with Sami

Chag Sameach! Greetings to all of my friends and family who celebrate Passover.

I am remembering two Seders I have attended in Albuquerque, New Mexico —  both in homes filled with many warm people who were strangers to me at the beginning of the Seder, but certainly not at the end.

The first Passover Seder was an invitation by my law partner to join her and her friends at someone’s home (I wish I could remember the name of the host).   They patiently taught me the rituals, and the significance of the food on the table.

 

The Passover seder celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom from the Pharaoh and the larger issue of the immorality of slavery. As Jews, we have a long history filled with suffering, oppression and slavery, which has informed our choices as a community to work with other groups to help their own oppression. Jews have played roles in the civil rights movement, women’s movement, gay rights movement and feel a deep connection to suffering of others.

My second Seder was also in Albuquerque, a few years later, at my friend Melinda’s house.  Again, there were many strangers sitting at several makeshift tables, we read another version of the Haggadah, we shared the matzohs, horseradish and the rest of the Seder meal together while making new friends.

One young man at my table was from Jabalya Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip!  Sami was a Palestinian boy only 16 years old, an exchange student attending Manzano High School.  Before he arrived in Albuquerque, the only Jews Sami had ever met were the soldiers carrying weapons in Gaza.  My friend Iris writes:

Now he had Jewish friends in school and several Jewish mothers ready to take him home. For Passover, we invited him to his first seder. The ritual required one to ask questions. That night was different from all other nights because Sami translated the four seder questions into Arabic and Croatian, the language of his Yugoslav mother. Another person asked them in Spanish, another in French, and of course they were asked in Hebrew and English. An Israeli woman, expressed her belief that all people were “chosen,” not just the Jews. Sami responded by saying he believed the Hebrew tribe was chosen to bring the highest law to mankind–– how to treat your fellow humans. And the law was for everyone.

I don’t know how to find Sami now.  I am in Gaza City, only minutes from Jabalya but Sami could be anywhere on this planet.  That Seder was 10 years ago.  Iris continues:

It was easy to forget he was only sixteen, especially the day he brought an Israeli Major to his history class for a Middle East teach-in. It was a moment of face to face dialogue. Major Stav Adivi, a leader in the Israeli refusnik movement, was speaking in New Mexico, explaining why he refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, although he would gladly defend Israel with his life. Having little prior knowledge of the issues, the history students were confounded by the discussion but for Sami it was the opportunity of a lifetime. He had been given a chance to have an honest and public dialogue with a major in the Israeli Defense Army, the same army that had brought death and destruction back home. They stood as equals in front of the classroom, both speaking from their hearts, both wanting to end the occupation, the injustice and the deaths.

Major Adivi believed that security for Israel would come with the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. A defensive wall should follow the Green Line, he insisted, the 1967 international boundary between Israel and Jordan. Sami boldly walked to the chalkboard and erased all the separation lines drawn by Stav, and stated his dream. “I wish to live with the Israelis in one unified country, where everyone is treated equally before the law.”  His faith in that vision was breathtaking.

Sami, wherever you are, I hope your vision comes true.   I hope you are safe.  I hope your life is unfolding as you dreamed.  I hope we will reconnect one day.

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People