I am beginning to plan our Temple Beth Sholom Second Day Pesach (Passover) seder. On Pesach we celebrate the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.
We retell the story of the Exodus each year to remind ourselves that the gift of freedom comes with great responsibility: our freedom means we have the responsibility to work to free those who are still bound by the shackles of poverty, war, famine, hatred, racism…whatever issues are still plaguing our world.
“Passover affirms the great truth that liberty is the inalienable right of every human being.” (Morris Joseph)
During many years in the rabbinate, I have been blessed with many different seder experiences that exemplify this notion of “liberty” and “freedom”. One example still resonates deeply for me: not long after Glasnost and Perestroika, I went to the Former Soviet Union for two years in a row with congregants during Pesach. We brought in much needed medical supplies, taught about Pesach and led Pesach seders in Minsk, Vitebsk, Gomel and Mogilev (all in Belarus). After the first seder, one woman approached us with tears streaming down her face, “I am 40 years old and this is my first Pesach seder. Thank you!” Up until then, the Jewish community had not been allowed to celebrate, and there was no one who knew the rituals.
This year, as I prepare for Pesach, I think about the struggle to preserve the Jewish and Democratic nature of our Jewish homeland, Israel. My Israeli friends and colleagues, people of all political affiliation, religious denominations, all walks of life are standing up to maintain Israel’s free and independent judiciary, Israel’s role as the only democratic country in that part of the Middle East.
My friend and colleague Rabbi Oded Mazor, the Senior Rabbi of Kehilat Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem, wrote the “Prayer for Democracy” above. This prayer has been adopted by the Israeli Reform Movement and many other organizations. It expresses the hope that the concepts of “liberation” and “freedom” are connected to living in a country where democracy, justice, equality and peace are of primary values.
This Pesach, our “Festival of Freedom,” I hope we all can do our part to make “liberation” and “freedom” lasting realities, both on the larger scale in Israel, world-wide and personally, for our friends and family.
I would like to suggest that as each of our seders draws to a conclusion, when it comes time to recite “L’shana ha’ba’ah b’Y’rushalayim – Next Year in Jerusalem” we add this Prayer for Democracy. The end of our seder is an expression of hope, the anticipation of a time when all will be perfect, when peace and justice, equality and harmony will reign. What better moment to add this special prayer?
I wish you and all your loved ones a sweet, wonderful and meaningful holiday. Next year, may we all celebrate in peace, liberty, justice, democrary and freedom.
Chag Pesach Sameach – Happy Pesach!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom