HAVING YOUR SAY AT THE SEDER

Statistics have it that more Jews participate in a Passover Seder than light Chanukah candles. Before you delude yourself into imagining how proud HaShem and Moshe are knowing that the revolutionary event of the Exodus from Egypt lives on millennia later, consider the fact that there are a good many contemporary Jews who conduct a Seder for purely selfish reasons. The Seder provides them with a forum to further a point of view that they hold as sacred. Put differently, in many instances, the Passover Seder has evolved into the most politicized tradition known to our people.

Politicizing Passover is nothing new. Close to a century ago, following the overthrow of the Czar, Communist leadership used the Passover Seder to advance its cause. Nicholas II was seen as Pharaoh, Vladamir Lenin was portrayed as Moses, life in Czarist Russia was indistinguishable from Egypt where cruel enslavement of the masses ran rampant, and the Soviet Union under Communism, where everyone enjoyed “equal rights,” was a panacea perhaps even superior to the Promised Land.

With the most modicum of imagination, the Passover Seder serves as the venue for any number of causes you hold to be sacred. At present, I’m sure that there are those who use the Seder to advance the plight of the poor Palestinians living in bondage under the wicked Israelis who deny them dignity as a people.

Don’t hijack the Passover Seder for selfish reasons. For two nights a year, even disaffected Jews ought to be able to find it in their hearts to accord Moses his rightful place among our people. As for using the Seder to further one’s personal agenda, one might consider using the conclusion of Passover as an appropriate time.

It would bookend the festival. Rather than watch the dissipation of Passover encroach as the crumbs of the Seder are brushed aside, a post Passover Seder could provide symmetry. Should you wish to resort to maror and matzah to highlight the plight of those you maintain are being denied freedom, then by all means! A post Passover Seder affords you to introduce bread and all over symbols to represent a future filled with hope. A post Passover Seder guarantees that the festival not only begins with interest and participation but ends with interest and participation as well.

It would show that you are no usurper. Those with an agenda all their own feel that they deserve a platform. If so, don’t deny Moses the platform that is his. Show others that you have the courtesy and sensitivity to permit Moses eight days of fame each year. Once Moses has had his say, beginning with “And you shall tell your son on that day” (Exodus 13:8) and concluding (seven days later) with “HaShem shall do battle for you and you shall remain silent” (exodus 14:14), you will have ample time to have your say and customize the message of Passover to fit your needs.

It keeps it in the house. You have every right to champion whatever cause you feel to be important. Do so within the walls of your own home. Chances are that others really don’t care about the beliefs you hold to be so sacrosanct. On the other hand, it may very well be that others care a great deal and are repulsed by those beliefs. Why should you be the cause for acrimony in the community? Doesn’t the Seder begin by extending an all-inclusive invitation? Keep your politicized Seder with your beliefs inside your own home where you can rant and rave to your heart’s content.

OF BOMB SCARES AND BOMB CARES

Bomb scares called in by phone to Jewish institutions such as JCCs and synagogues are deplorable; vandalism at Jewish cemeteries even more so. As macabre as this may sound, bomb scares pale in comparison to actual bombs going off without any warning. As macabre as this may sound, cemetery desecration pales in comparison to Jewish homes being vandalized and “Jude” painted on the windows or front door.

As one whose maternal grandmother was widowed at the age of 25 when her husband was murdered along with all the other Jewish men – all victims of a pogrom in the Bessarabian shtetl where they lived – bomb scares and even cemetery desecrations don’t throw me into a panic.

Instead, I draw strength because leadership of Jewish communities speaks out. From time immemorial, there have been Jewish communities, yet, only within the last century in this country has there been any semblance of Jewish communal leadership. In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, there was no Jewish leadership. Berdichev was known for its great rabbinic personality Levi Yitzchak, not for its JCC or its Jewish Community Relations Council – neither of which existed during Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s time. When Jews of Berdichev suffered indignation or even calamity from those who despised them, they had absolutely no recourse. Even in this country it wasn’t until the last half-century that American Jews, along with their leaders, finally abandoned their “shah shtill” attitude when it came to Jewish issues.

I draw strength because the American Government listens. Close to 75 years ago, a group of 400-plus American rabbis gathered courage and traveled to the nation’s capital three days before Yom Kippur to draw President Roosevelt’s attention to the destruction and annihilation of European Jewry. The President avoided meeting with the rabbis not only because of concerns of diplomatic neutrality, but because some of his Jewish aides and several prominent American Jews felt that the delegation (the vast majority of  whom were Orthodox as well as recent immigrants to this country) were not representative of American Jewry, and that such a meeting would stir up antisemitism.

FDR is long gone. So too are those American Jews who were concerned lest they appear “too Jewish.” Now we have Chanukah celebrations as well as Passover Seders at the White House. No longer are Jewish delegations – rabbinic or lay – turned away.

I draw strength because our politicians make an attempt to address the situation. While I personally fail to see any connection between hastily planned whirlwind visits to Israel and bomb scares to JCCs and synagogues, in no way can I look askance at a governor from the state of New York boarding a flight to Ben Gurion airport.

What would really give me reason to draw strength will occur when pastors and priests throughout this country make it a point to speak out against bomb scares and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. It would be a marvelous mitzvah for pastors and priests throughout this country, as they find themselves at the beginning of the Lenten season, to speak out against bomb scares and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and to remind their parishioners that anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.

I would hope that Christian leaders will begin to speak up and speak out about what is taking place. When that takes happens, I will ask that you join me in drawing strength. Chazak! Chazak!

THANKSGIVING TRANSCENDS

If the media is to be believed – and that’s a big if, then there will be any number of families and friends that will alter their plans for sharing Thanksgiving dinner this year. No puns intended, but it seems that one of the outcomes of the recent elections is that political allegiance trumps familial allegiance. Reading the news, one would be led to believe that this is the first time in American history that families refused to sit down together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Nothing could be further than the truth! If the Civil War pitted brother against brother, then there is every reason to believe that refusal to share Thanksgiving dinner was one of any number of causalities that came about when the North and the South of this country faced off against each other.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends politics. Despite strong held Democrat or Republican beliefs along with more than a healthy dose of stubbornness, Thanksgiving has transcended party allegiance. Say what you want about turkey and trimmings, but they are oblivious to political ideologies. So too has been the case for the vast majority of Americans who refuse to let their appetites become ruined as they debate within themselves whether or not they should go for second helpings or whether the turkey is as tender and tasty as it was last year.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends trends. There may be a world of difference between America of 2016 and America of 1966, just as there was most likely a world of difference between America of 1966 and America of 1916. America has changed! Despite the packaging along with the fact that by the time they are in the supermarket for purchase, turkeys seem to have lost their feet, necks as well as their internal organs, the prerequisite Thanksgiving fowl  has remained the same. That’s why grandma’s recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner is savored more and more as the years go by; that’s why traditions and honors such as who is asked to carve the “ toikey” (see the 1990 Barry Levinson movie Avalon) remains sacrosanct.

When all is said and done, Thanksgiving transcends self-interests. How else does one explain millions of Americans turning airports into “scareports” as travelers desperately attempt to keep their tempers in check? First they must stand in line to check in, and then stand in line to go through security only to have to stand in line once again to board a plane, where for all intents and purposes they will be pretty much forced to assume a sitting posture not all that dissimilar to the turkey they are about to dig into at the Thanksgiving meal. How else does one explain inching along overcrowded interstate highways wondering if you are going to make it in time, in that under the best of circumstances, your destination is still an hour and a half away? How else does one explain adjusting one’s personal calendar and rescheduling appointments, so that one is able to spend a couple of hours around a Thanksgiving table, all the while hoping and praying that one does not end up sitting beside cousin Bartholomew who gives new meaning to the word obnoxious?

Thanksgiving transcends it all. Perhaps that’s why in the hundredth psalm otherwise known as the Psalm of Thanksgiving, we find the phrase “from generation to generation”.