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Passsover at Home and Abroad - חג פסח בבית אצלינו ובבחו׳ל

April 7, 2016

For 36 years since I purchased this צלחת פסח (Passover Plate)  from the אגודת ישראל (Agudas Israel Gift Shop) in Saskatoon,  I have protected it and used it only twice a year. Once for ליל סדר (the Seder meal on the first night of Passover) and once for the the second Seder meal on the that is only celebrated in (the diaspora). 

 

I love this plate. It is handpainted and very fragile. It takes up too much space on the table so it has to be removed after the first part of the Seder - Act 1 with the blessings and the plagues, the mortar and bricks, the tears and the the Exodus from Egypt - and replaced with the actual victuals. 

 

I love פסח (Passover). It has everything - existential crises, identity crises, murder, expulsion,  miracles, punishment, redemption - and of course, wine and food. We are commanded to tell this story of our redemption, every year, with the same words and in the same order. The food must be staged. It has meaning. Every bite has an association either with an event in the story or with some spiritual aspect of renewal. One does not eat capriciously on Passover. Everything in its place.

 

When we lived in Vancouver and New York, I would have extra large Seders. I liked to invite the "lone Jews" - anyone who did not have family or a community to go to - and all of our friends who seemed to enjoy the ritual retelling whether they believed it or not. Whether the story is "true" or it is metaphorical or instructional or none of these; its overall significance is in the adherence to the repetition of the collective account and desire for self determination.

 

Since we have lived in Tel Aviv our Seders have been smaller. Everyone we know has somewhere else to go. This is disappointing in a way. We love large celebrations. But it is comforting as well. On ליל סדר (Seder Night) the streets are empty in the whole country. Every house it lit up. Every family is at the table telling the same story. It can be magical.

 

But there is some sadness here as well. For the first time in my memory, many Jews outside of Israel are abrogating the inclusion of the words Israel and Jerusalem from אגדה (Agada - book read at the Seder). A split has occurred. For some outside of this country there is a feeling - no, a compulsion -  to force a wedge between us. They feel they have to make a choice between being socially responsible and supporting Zionism. 

 

I believe this is wrongheaded in so many ways - most of which I won't indulge now. But I want to say that this drive to self-determination, this need to be seen as one people is not racist, nor abhorrent. It is in fact what makes anyone and any nation what they are. So when the Irish sing "A Nation Once Again" it is because they identify with the sentiment that the shared beliefs and goals of of the Irish Nation are valuable and what makes them Irish.  They do not give up being Irish if they disagree with their government or become disillusioned with their fellow Irishmen. 

 

This year when we sit down to our Seder in Tel Aviv, we will read the story. We will drink the wine and eat the food and sing the songs. And at the end we will say בשנה הבא בירושלים "Next Year In Jerusalem" because that is essential to who we are. We do not give that up because we have strong political views about just treatment of others. 

 

I wonder if the abridged Agada will end with "Next Year In Washington, D.C."

 

 

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