Free Our Minds, Free Our Hearts

Tonight at sundown is the start of Passover, the eight-day Jewish holiday that remembers (in a ritual, not necessarily an historical, sense) the Jewish people’s enslavement in ancient Egypt, and commemorates our “coming out” of slavery (the Exodus). On the first two nights of Passover (tonight and tomorrow night), Jews participate in ceremonial meals called “seders.” Special foods are eaten, the story of slavery and freedom is told, and afterward there is a big, wonderful meal (after the traditional foods are eaten in a ritualized way). Depending on how traditional the seder is, you may not be even starting that meal until close to midnight.

Anyway, I love Passover (as long as it’s not at my house). Tonight, I will be spending first night seder at the home of a longtime, close friend from my synagogue, and her family and friends. And I’m looking forward to it.

In its broadest meaning, Passover is not just about us. It’s not just about the Jewish story of slavery in Egypt, and liberation and wandering in the Sinai led by Moses. It’s about all the ways in which we, as human beings, enslave ourselves and remembering that the process of human liberation is never-ending, and that it takes place at all times in all places on earth.  Many contemporary seders include readings and discussion about and recognition of, other historic freedom struggles: American slavery as well as the U.S. civil rights movement, the oppression of Soviet Jews, and many more.

All of us are bound by our own personal chains: of habit; of outdated, no longer relevant or helpful ways of thinking and being; of prejudices and unexamined beliefs. I am so bound as much as anyone else is, and my job is to name my own chains and try to cast them off.

All of this having been said (or perhaps as a logical continuation of it), it does sadden and dishearten me when I see the narrow, unthinking, and even hateful ways in which some Jewish people seem to think about the larger meanings and implications of a religious and cultural tradition that should be welcoming, inclusive, and mind-broadening by definition.

The link above and in this paragraph goes to Memeorandum, because I do not want to give Debbie Schlussel the traffic. But reading her long, venomous rant about the news that Pres. Obama is holding a (second-night) seder at the White House (the first night is traditionally considered the most important, sacred, however you want to put it, and is usually reserved for close family and friends; second night is often opened up to extended friendly networks, non-Jewish participants, etc.), I can’t help feeling that her attitude contradicts the entire spirit and meaning of Passover.

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