Friday, April 15, 2022

A Seder With Even More Resonance

If ever there was a religion that focused on its past it is Judaism, perhaps no more reflected than in the seder experience that will be played out Friday night in various forms in living and dining rooms the world over, not just by religiously observant Jews but by fellow tribe members who are no more conversant in ancient ritual than their gentile guests dipping parley in salt water or sandwiching bitter herbs in matzah to recall centuries of bondage Israelites endured in ancient Egypt.

Passover forever stays relevant offering a continuing counterpoint to events in generation after generation.

Perhaps the most poignant point of Passover’s relevancy to daily events of our time is the Bible’s repetitive commandment not to oppress the stranger “for you (Israel) were strangers in the land of Egypt.” 

Ukraine is foremost in many minds—as of March 16, 2022, over three million Ukrainians have fled their country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which estimates worldwide there are more than 26.6 million refugees. 

America is a magnet for people seeking a better life, a safer life, a more economically opportunistic life. Beyond attaining just and benevolent immigration and asylum policies, our nation must also address lingering issues of discrimination, discrimination historically aimed at successive newcomers whether they be Irish, Italians, Chinese, Jews, Hispanics, and, through all those waves, the continuing discrimination and violence against Blacks, the one group that did not voluntarily choose to seek a new life in America. 

Let’s also not forget that America’s original peoples continue to be deprived of the many benefits and riches of our country. 

One of the more mind-boggling stories Gilda and I heard when we toured Charleston, SC, a few years ago was the practice of colonial Jewish merchants (“merchants” being code word for slave traders) conducting their seders with their personal slaves sitting around their table as participants. How surrealistic that must have been to their slaves hearing, probably not fully comprehending, the Hebrew text recounting the Israelite slaves escaping bondage. 

Other slaves, as Sharon Braus recounted in The New York Times, were read Bible stories from a “Slave Bible” that was “carefully redacted to exclude all references to the Exodus from Egypt. Imagine a Bible with no Moses, no burning bush, no Israelites fleeing slavery, no split sea and no revelation at Sinai” (

Bible scholars ascribe the length of slavery in Egypt to 400 years. 400 years? How coincidental: The first African slaves were brought to America in 1619—400 years of repression mixed with unrealized equality. 

In Nebraska earlier this week the state legislature voted to  require schools to teach about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. On procedural grounds, however, the lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have required teaching about “slavery, lynching and racial massacres in the United States.” At least I hope it was a procedural problem, though past attempts to legislate instruction about the treatment of Blacks also failed to pass. 

The Exodus story begins with two heroines, midwives who did not heed Pharaoh’s edict to kill any newborn baby boy. To stifle dissent, Vladimir Putin wants Russians to inform on their neighbors and even family members who question the government’s line on its “special operation” in Ukraine. 

How different is that from a new law in Texas, copied by some states, that rewards snitches who report abortion recipients and those who facilitated the procedure? 

The exodus from Egypt culminates with the might of the Egyptian empire humbled, its army on chariots, drowning in the waters of the Red Sea. 

In another sea of color, the Black Sea, the pride of the Russian fleet, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, sank Thursday. Whether it was from a missile attack by Ukrainian forces or from an accidental explosion of ammunition aboard the ship, the outcome was the same, a huge victory for a people seeking freedom from a vastly superior force. 

The seder this year will have special resonance.