Passover is the time of year when we remember who we are.
At Passover, in Biblical times, the Jewish People traveled to Jerusalem to sacrifice lambs, and to sit around campfires and dinner tables as their portions of the lambs roasted, munching on greens as they told their great origin story: the Exodus from Egypt. They remembered the fearful days of slavery in Egypt, and of their deliverance from those miseries. They remembered who they used to be (enslaved people) and who they had become (free people.)
And then the Temple was gone.
In the year 70, the Romans destroyed our Temple. There would be no more sacrifices, no more roasting lamb, and for a moment it looked like the transmission of the story would be broken as well: how could we teach the next generation of Jews, if not by the fires on the hills surrounding Jerusalem, in the warmth of the roasting fire? Our sages came up with a new idea, the seder, drawn from the Greek symposium banquet, where learners and teachers reclined around tables, discussing ideas. At our seders, women joined the table. At our seders, we talked about Exodus. At our seders, we finished with an afikomen, a broken piece of matzah, thereby bypassing the Greek and Roman custom of bawdy entertainment.
The Passover seder became the Great Jewish Learning Event, repeated in Jewish households every year. For some Jews, it was their only observance; for others, one of a cycle of holidays that preserved Jewish identity for centuries — for millennia!
As we sat around the table, we remembered who we were, and we watched the changes that centuries brought: there were good times and bad times, but the seders continued. The 20th century arrived with its unique horrors, and Passover gained new connotations with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Jews fought back against the Nazis, beginning on the first night of Passover because they refused to forget who they were.
Then, last year, we faced a new challenge: Covid-19 drove us into our homes, and it forced us to gather in even smaller groups. Thanks to technology, Jews improvised “Zoom seders” and “phone seders” and the storytelling continued. We continued to remember who we are. This year we are old hands at Zoom and other tech, and yet we still yearn for the time when we can gather without fear. We mourn for those who are no longer with us, and we look ahead to new seders, new gatherings, in the years to come.
We at HaMaqom | The Place wish you and your family, be it a family of biology or a family of choice a zissen Pesach, “a sweet Passover” (Yiddish), and hope that you kome con gana, “eat with gusto” (Ladino) at your seder, however you hold it. We look forward to learning with you in the year ahead, and to hearing from you what you want to learn.