Right now, Rabbi Matt Dreffin and Rabbi Marshal Klaven are in the midst of the Passover Pilgrimage, journeying to communities throughout the South to lead seders and Passover programming.
Here is one of Rabbi Klaven’s first updates from the road: “Question: What do you get when 10 Jews and 50 non-Jews get together? Answer: An unforgettable 1st Seder on the ISJL Passover Pilgrimage. This evening in Natchez reminded us all: to go great distances, we cannot go at it alone; but –as the Bible says– we must go as “a mix multitude!” Thank you, Congregation B’nai Israel and all our wonderful friends there!”
The Passover Pilgrimage continues through April 20, with stops in more than half a dozen Southern states:
Seders along the way take place at congregations (including churches), and additional pastoral visits and events are planned. As ambassadors for this festival of freedom, the rabbis are excited to share their thoughts along the way and post-pilgrimage. In the meantime, we wish them safe travels and will continue sharing periodic updates on the ISJL Facebook page, as well.
The story of Passover, and the Exodus from Egypt, involves the oppressor (Pharaoh and the Egyptians) and the oppressed and enslaved (the Jews). At seders around the world, Pharaoh is the symbol from figures ranging from literal modern day slave-owners and dictators to metaphorical oppressors, such as depression and cancer. The common thread: they are destructive, and all too prevalent.
However, when people ask me what I am doing for Passover, I answer with a one-liner that only serves to stun the person I’m talking with (and always makes me feel like I just said that flowers are hideous or something): To me, Passover is the day when I celebrate the freedom I have to not observe Passover.
As someone who was raised ultra-orthodox, it is not a freedom I take for granted.
However, it leads me to wonder why I have a hard time celebrating freedom from tyranny, slavery and other similar forces. This year, I realized what is missing for me. It is an understanding that we are in a world where my freedom may be linked to another’s oppression—particularly when it comes to the freedoms associated with Jewish life.
Passover epitomizes this for me. We hear about the experiences of Jews who had to overcome adversity in order to celebrate Passover. The idea that Jews around the world can observe Passover freely is a story of triumph and a cause for celebration. But, what is missing for me is an exploration of how the freedom to celebrate Passover can be oppressive to others. It can be oppressive because it is not a choice and is, in fact, a sort of “Egypt” for some who are seeking to survive or escape their ultra-orthodox communities of origin.
I have similar feelings about other Jewish practices like the mikvah (ritual bath). There is a growing trend of Jewish communities building beautiful spa-like mikvahs for women who want to partake in the set of laws that are known as Taharas Hamishpacha (family purity). The experience of going to a mikvah changed the status of a woman who had her period from being impure to pure. I’m glad women today have found a way to create a magical experience of going to the mikvah. Mikvah goers oftentimes enjoy the experience of being pampered, relaxing and tuning into their bodies. (I, too, enjoy going to a spa.) But, it troubles me when I see a disconnect between that beautiful experience and the experience of my high school peers, some of whom dreaded the experience of going to the mikvah, but didn’t have the freedom to skip a month, or opt-out altogether.
Freedom does not just mean the freedom to do things; it means the freedom to not do them, or to do them in our own way.
My hope this Passover is that we recognize that freedom is precious and worthy of celebration and safe-guarding. We must be sure that our freedom does not enable the freedom of others to be trampled. May we all appreciate the freedoms that we do have, and continue advocating for others’ freedom as well.
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In this alliterative Mensch Madness match up, Mordechai and Moses are about to meet!
This match is tough, because both of these mighty M-heroes saved the Jews from oppression and certain doom. At this point in the year, many may think that Mordy has the slight advantage because of his strong performance a few weeks ago during the Holiday of Purim. However, in the coming weeks Moses will steal the spotlight, yet again, as we begin our Passover celebrations.
Reviewing the Megillah (hey, another M!), it was indeed Mordechai who devised a plan that landed his (secretly Jewish!) niece Esther in the palace as the new Queen. Then, while Mordechai was patrolling the palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king. Mordechai gave word to the king, thwarting the assassination attempt, and King Ahashuerus recorded Mordy’s deed in his royal diary. Mordechai’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman (BOO!), who had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan type of relationship. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but Mordechai refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Mordechai communicated with his niece, Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was defeated. Mordechai saved all of the Team Jewish players, and became King Ahashuerus’ new MVP.
Quick game recap for the other player today: Moses not only saved the lives of thousands of Israelite people, but also defeated the evil Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt, delivered God’s laws, and helped create a new civilization. What impresses this ref most about Moses is that he did all of this without growing up within the Jewish community: since all Jewish baby boys were supposed to be killed, Moses’ mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Sea of Reeds to save his life. After being discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was raised as an Egyptian Prince. Thus, after growing up as an iconic Egyptian royal figure, he dishonored what he thought was his heritage and took a chance that ultimately made him the greatest Jewish prophet in our tradition.positioned his niece Esther to become the queen of Persia. Then, while Mordechai was on patrol, guarding the Kings palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king, and thwarted that plot. King Ahasuerus recorded Mordechai’s deed in his royal diary. Mordy’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman. Haman had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan kind of relationship, you might say. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but our man Mordy refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Learning of his plot, Mordechai communicated with his niece, now Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was ousted and hung. Mordechai became a well respected, high ranking man in the eyes of King Ahasuerus – the new all-star on the team.
As impressive as it was for Mordechai to save the lives of so many Jews in Persia, Moses, along with help of God, created the lasting Israelite nation. The Torah states, “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom Adonai singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Adonai sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 34:12).”
Looks like the Big Coach weighed in on this one – and so, Moses hits the shot at the buzzer and defeats Mordechai.
Who will go on to win Mensch Madness? Stay tuned, Southern & Jewish sports fans!