A recent Pew survey found that participation by Jews in a Passover Seder is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish ritual. During the Passover Seder Jews all over the world read with their children the story of their rescue from bondage in Egypt. However, there is much more for Jews than merely remembering an event from ancient history. The Passover tradition generates a powerful feeling that they are actually present during this event. They feel the oppression of bondage. They experience the overwhelming sense of freedom. They glorify their God who is causing this to happen.
Passover is about sustaining the identity of a people, and retelling the story breathes energy into difficult times. Within living memory we have seen the most wondrous result. If not for 2,000 years of reading the Passover story at Seder tables around the world – of declaring, “Next year in Jerusalem” – there would have been no rebirth of Israel in 1948.
The Haggadah is a small book that outlines the order of the Passover meal and recites the story of the Exodus but is also prepares Jews for what is happening in their lives today. God freed them from slavery, but in the desert they had to learn how to exercise freedom and build a nation. They became the first people with widespread literacy, and their dedication to knowledge sustained them during two millennia of exile. Despite their differences (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, Revisionist) they have remained a cohesive group who identify as Jews and who celebrate the rebirth of their nation Israel.
The recent outbreak of ugly anti-Semitism in our own country has brought Jewish communities together to stand and resist this attack of hatred. We must do everything in our power to help them in this courageous struggle. Perhaps participating in a Seder, or just reading the Haggadah, may help us in this effort. As we read about their Exodus from Egypt we can feel the oppression of bondage, experience the overwhelming sense of freedom, and glorify their God and our God who is causing this to happen.