This past Saturday, I went to a Passover Seder. I entered late, like Elijah, downed the mandatory four glasses of wine, sang, and did my Passover duty of passing over not a bit of food. Three pieces of gefilte fish, two helpings of brisket, turkey, two helpings of meatballs, two helpings of kugel, brownie pie, raspberry sponge cake, chocolate cheesecake and some meringue concoction later, I was the doomed bananafish from that J.D. Salinger story.
It’s ironic to get drunk and gorge oneself, having just prayed for all those suffering from hunger and oppression in the world, but ironic or not, it is a gift to be able to celebrate with friends and family a tradition of freedom that spans millennia.
Passover celebrates God delivering the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It celebrates the toil and hardship of a people enslaved, delivered from that slavery by a prophet and plagues. I’m only Jewish by association, but I know my Purim from my Yom Kippur, my keflah from my yarmulka, and my latke from my kugel. I know that Hanukkah is a huge holiday because of the commercial attention Christmas gets, that Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays, and that the last supper celebrated Passover.
At the Seder I attended, friends were discussing the new pope and the basis of Christianity. One of my friends joked that Christians just had better marketing. Indeed they do, as Jews, unlike members of most every other religious sect, do not proselytize. You will never get two young men in yarmulkas knocking at your door asking what you know about Judaism, and if you’d like to know more. Jews will never tell you that you are doomed if you don’t accept Moses as your personal prophet of deliverance.
One of the things I love about Judaism is that it does not require a dogmatic belief system, but rather is based more on tradition, ritual, and family. When I explained to one of my Jewish friends that if I didn’t believe in Christ, I wasn’t Christian, she was appalled. Despite the difference between being Christian, where faith in God alone determines inclusion, and being Jewish, which is both an ethnic background and a religion, it still seemed rather harsh to her that a person could be separated from their family simply because they think differently. Diversity of thought and questioning are cornerstones of Jewish tradition.
This reliance on questioning, on strengthening the mind, is one of the reasons Jews place such high value on education. And education is the reason I was at this Seder — because somehow the God of Abraham and the God of Moses smiled upon me and made it possible for me to attend Brandeis University as an undergraduate and meet some of these exceptional people who continue to inform me and grace my life.
Passover is a time to remind us that the enslavement of anyone is the torment of everyone. Passover reminds us that remembering those who have come before us is a way to see the future. It is a reminder that despite continuing oppression and suffering around the globe, despite whatever current “pharaoh” refuses to “let my people go,” there is always the promise of deliverance, and “our God is an awesome God.”
Half-drunk and twice-full, I spent my Saturday night soaring on the wings of love for a planet where people begetting and becoming are still remembering that the pyramids were built from the bottom up.
Thus, we raise our glasses and say “power to the people.”
Laura Bahr is a graduate student studying mass communication.