Why this Passover is different

By Rabbi Lily Solochek, Adas Yoshuron Synagogue | Apr 07, 2020
Rabbi Lily Solochek, Adas Yoshuron Synagogue

Editor's Note: We live in a time when people most need the comfort of their houses of worship, but services have been canceled because of the pandemic. This is a space for local faith leaders to provide messages to their congregations and the community on a rotating basis. All faiths are welcome. Email News Director Daniel Dunkle, ddunkle@villagesoup.com, or call 706-6530 to sign up to contribute a message to this column.

The last time my community gathered in person was on Purim, a holiday of Jewish resilience and celebration; we dressed in colorful costumes, we ate hamantaschen (fun triangle cookies), and we acknowledged that it was “only a month until Passover.” We joked, we laughed, we imagined our next holiday gathering, a community Passover Seder in early April. During this night of frivolity, we never imagined that the intermittent month would feel so long and bring such tumultuous change.

When COVID-19 reached Maine, we quickly shifted to postponing or moving our programming to online only. Though this was a very heavy decision, it was not a difficult one: Jewish tradition teaches that we are responsible to one another, and that preservation of health is paramount above other obligations. It is our responsibility as Jews to honor the sacrifices made by health care workers, to protect the vulnerable populations, and to do our part in preserving community health by staying home, even on Passover.

Passover, which begins at sunset on Wednesday, April 8, is a night of questions, which is fitting for Judaism, a religion that prioritizes and celebrates asking questions. Each year on Passover we ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and point out the symbolic ritual foods and customs that differentiate it. This year our community adds one more oddity: Why this year are we gathered online and not in person? Judaism teaches that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, outweighs all other concerns. Even at our most joyous holiday celebrating our people’s freedom, we gather virtually to ensure the safety of our community.

Though Passover celebrations around the world will look different this year, the message of the holiday is the same: We tell stories of freedom, we dream of collective liberation, we ask questions and celebrate community connection. Perhaps this year our symbolic foods will take on new meanings. We call matza (a special unleavened bread eaten on Passover) the “bread of affliction that our ancestors ate when they were slaves in Egypt.” May the dry taste of matza remind us how many people in our communities are food insecure, even more deeply impacted in this crisis. May the bitter herbs remind us of the bitterness of isolation, encouraging us to reach out to neighbors and friends over the phone. May the shankbone (placed on the Seder plate), which reminds us of ancient sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple, remind us of the sacrifices of health care workers who risk their lives every day.

Pirkei Avot, a collection of Jewish wisdom and ethics, teaches that we should not separate ourselves from the community. Though we usually think of this in a more literal sense, concern for community health has taught us to be emotionally close for the sake of one another, even as we are physically distant. In the past few weeks I have been heartened by the care I have witnessed people offer one another: phone calls, offering to pick up groceries, virtual gatherings and celebrations. No act of kindness is too small, and the love we show one another gives us the strength to face each day.

In Hebrew, Egypt is called mitzrayim, narrowness. In the Psalms we recite on Passover we say, “I called out to God from the narrow places and was answered with the expanse of God.” Our story begins in a narrow place, in the pain and oppression of slavery. Our liberation comes when we cross the Red Sea and enter the wilderness, surrounded by the infinite expanse. In our current moment, many of us may feel stuck in a narrow place. But we can always continue working alongside our community members — even virtually — to seek a liberation of our own in these times.

We pray for a refuah shlema, a complete healing of body, mind and spirit of every person sick or suffering. We pray for strength and health for all health care workers and essential workers. We dream together of a world where everyone has access to medical care, where every table is filled with food, and where we can once again gather in person. We commit to be partners with the Divine by supporting and loving one another, by offering comfort and compassion to each other, and by making responsible choices that protect the most vulnerable among us. And we say, Amein.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 09, 2020 05:57

What the Rabbi is praying for all of us the synagogue gives to all of us by their community involvement that shows love and inclusion by preparing and serving both the Easter and Christmas Community Dinners. Shalom!

Here we are; every one of us; at a crossroads. Which way will we choose to go? Because the future of our world depends on it.

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