The Promise of Passover

Passover, in many respects, is among the most accessible and relatable moments on the Jewish calendar. It invites us to immerse ourselves in the Jewish narrative in a way no other holiday does.
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Passover, in many respects, is among the most accessible and relatable moments on the Jewish calendar. It invites us to immerse ourselves in the Jewish narrative in a way no other holiday does. It allows us to adapt the ritual to be relevant to our lives. And its lessons transcend far beyond the Jewish experience.

Because of these attributes, Passover has become the most well-known and widely celebrated Jewish holiday, one that continues to inspire people and in which we find new meaning year after year, even as the story itself remains largely the same.

Indeed, at the heart of Passover is a story as epic as any in the history of humankind and not just because it has all of the trappings of a Hollywood drama: It is a great story because it is timeless, as much about the future as it is about the past.

The Passover story marks the moment the Israelites went from bondage in Egypt to being a people bound together by a core set of principles that continue to guide us today: a love of freedom, a commitment to service and doing for others, a strong sense of respect for our fellow human beings and a belief in a better future.

Every year, when we gather around the Seder table to re-tell the Exodus from Egypt, we both commemorate our national liberation and also re-affirm our commitment to perpetuating these universal values for future generations.

We do this by taking ourselves back in time. Passover asks us to put ourselves into the story, to recount it experientially by revisiting the very night our ancestors were liberated from slavery. We drink four cups of wine that reflect the four ways freedom is described in the Haggadah. We eat bitter herbs to remind us of our ancestors' suffering.

"In all generations," we recite, "it is the duty for every person to consider that they had come forth from Egypt."

In this way, we become more than spectators in one of Judaism's rich cultural traditions; we become active participants.

If that was all Passover did, it would be enough.

But it is more than that. The Passover tradition is one that invites inventiveness and imagination, all the more so because we are charged with creating an experience engaging enough to entice people to ask questions about its meaning.

As the Jewish people have grown in diversity, so have the ways in which we celebrate Passover. Some host themed Seders -- vegetarian, interfaith, eco-friendly, feminist, educational equality, to name but a few -- while others forgo conventional Haggadahs in favor of custom versions that better reflect modern-day social, political, gender and familial structures. Still more add an orange to the seder plate as a reminder of the need to create a more inclusive Jewish community.

The flexibility and adaptability of the rituals make the story accessible to people with different viewpoints and experiences. We get to explore, grapple with and apply Passover's rich themes and lessons to our lives and the modern world through a personally meaningful lens.

If that was all Passover did, it would be enough.

But it is more than that. Because the rich diversity of these traditions notwithstanding, the centerpiece of the Passover story remains the same: a people yearning for freedom and steadfast in their commitment to moral principles and a belief in a better future, even in the face of enduring hardships, repression and persecution.

And this is a story that is imminently relatable far beyond the Jewish people. Indeed, the Passover story has been embraced and invoked by many of different faiths in the name of freedom. William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, expressed that the Pilgrims saw their mission as vital as that of "Moses and the Israelites when they went out of Egypt." George Washington compared the American Revolution to the Exodus.

And it was Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously said (in words Moses might have used): "I have been to the mountaintop. And I have looked over. I have seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land."

The values the Passover story embodies are universal and eternal, and its lessons continue to inspire movements and people in the ongoing march toward freedom and liberty. Many open their Seder tables beyond their Jewish family and friends to invite those who can relate to, want to learn from and draw on the Jewish experience.

Perhaps it is this that is so enticing to the younger generation, many of whom are eagerly creating their own Passover customs and traditions. For us, blind acceptance of obligation is no longer a sufficient reason to take part in religious, spiritual and lifecycle events. We want personally meaningful experiences that allow us to shape our Jewish identities on our own terms and not in isolation from the rest of our lives.

Passover allows for that in a way that no other Jewish holiday does. Whether through the variety of established customs or the creation of new traditions, we get to find our intimate place in this national narrative in a way that reflects the rich diversity of Jewish and human experience but within a design that secures the message of the Seder.

In fact, that is the promise of Passover: the relevancy of the story and the adaptability of the ritual that make the celebration of Passover accessible and meaningful year after year.

And that is enough. Dayenu.

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