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April 17, 2014 By:
Reclaiming Freedom Beyond the Seder
These are our days of liberation. The Hebrew month of Nissan promises spring, and after what has seemed like an endless winter, the birds are calling to one another, flowers are poking their brilliant heads out of the earth, and buds are visible on the trees.
And we Jews are celebrating freedom. Last week, we gathered at tables set with memories and symbols, sweet and bitter, and sang songs of gratitude and wonderment that we have arrived, once again, at this season of renewal. With friends and family members, some of us repeated words that brought back the voices, and the faces, of beloved ones, now gone.
And some of us stretched, welcoming new voices, discovering new words, fulfilling the challenge of the Haggadah: “All who elaborate on the story of the Exodus deserve praise.”
Together, we repeated, and renewed our ancestors’ trek from slavery to freedom, and claimed the story as our own: trudging, walking, dancing from shame to praise, from despair to hope, from pain to joy.
What symbols were on your seder plate this year, and how have they informed this week of eating — and thinking —with an altered sensibility? Some of us debated whether parsley or romaine lettuce should be used for karpas and hazeret. Others considered the merits of different recipes for charoset.
The Talmud teaches us that two roasted items must be on the seder plate, and many use a beet in place of a bone as an accompaniment to the roasted egg. An orange brings color and questions to seder tables across the world, symbolizing the inclusion and welcome of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer folks who make our communities both more holy and more whole.
This year, some of us added a padlock and key to our seder plate. Why a padlock and key? We are the people of the open door! We open our doors on this night and welcome family and friends; then, as we’re sated with rich conversation, uplifting music and good food, we open the door again to welcome Elijah, the prophet of hope.
And while some of us may remember a time when it was unsafe to open our doors on seder night, many more of us celebrate the security of our homes and our lives. Those of us who added a lock and key to our seder plates this year wanted to contrast our freedom with the imprisonment of two million Americans — the majority, people of color — many of whom are incarcerated for minor, victimless crimes.
As we celebrate these final days of Passover, counting the Omer and making our way toward Shavuot, let us consider the symbols of our Passover celebration as opportunities to reclaim both the privileges and the responsibilities of freedom.
As we gathered with many generations around our seder tables, may we continue the conversations about freedom and slavery, about justice and peace, about our connections with the others with whom we share this fragile planet. In the words of The Open Door Haggadah: During these days of Pesach, “we pray that in days to come, our children will remember to tell their children: freedom is God’s gift — and our obligation.”
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, the editor of the The Open Door Haggadah, serves as a spiritual director in Philadelphia. She is one of the creators of “Crying Out Against Mass Incarceration,” a Haggadah supplement.