Retelling and Telling Passover Stories - March 26,2021

Passover begins tomorrow night. It is our opportunity to open our families' wine-stained Haggadot (perhaps with a few matzoh crumbs leftover from last year) and retell the story of our exodus from Egypt. Our story is both transcendent and deeply personal, especially with this second Passover during a global pandemic. We continue to live through a modern-day plague, and our most vulnerable continue to suffer.
Times do feel different. Many have already received their vaccinations, but we must all remain vigilant.
Food insecurity, unemployment, increasing mental health challenges, and a still shaky Jewish communal infrastructure are just a few of the dramatic consequences of this pandemic.
Gary Rosenblatt, the retired editor of New York’s Jewish Week, shared a beautiful thought about Passover. He writes, “The number four is a constant at the seder. There are the Four Cups of Wine. Four Questions, and Four Children to ask them. Looking back, I think of 2020 as consisting of four stages: confusion, fear, adaptation and then steadfastness. Covid came to us suddenly and with ferocity at this time of year. But over the succeeding months we gradually came to accept that we were in for the long haul and found creative ways to cope. And with it all, we struggled with heavy hearts to grasp the enormity of the losses we suffered as a nation and as a society and as individuals -- neighbors, friends, loved ones.”
Two thoughts about Passover this year. First, during our seder we will open our front door to welcome Elijah the Prophet. This year, I hope we open our doors even wider. We will, of course, carefully watch to see if the fifth glass of wine is reduced in volume by Elijah. At the same time, our wide-open doors symbolically remove our social isolation, create a more open and inclusive space, and welcome family and friends as we begin to move beyond the pandemic. 
Secondly, Passover is our journey from slavery to freedom. There are five commandments included in the seder. Two are written in the Torah: the retelling of the story of the Exodus and eating matzah. Three were instituted by our Sages: eating bitter herbs, drinking four cups of wine, and reclining. Each of these mitzvot are another way for us to achieve freedom.
I believe there is another required mitzvah – sharing our family traditions and stories.
Think about it. Can you name your 8 great-grandparents? That is only three generations preceding you. Less than 1% of the population can. Look how quickly we lose sight of our past and history.
I am sure each of you have your own memories of family seders. Every Passover is our chance to create even more. I will share a few personal things:
  • The Haggadot my family use are 45 years old and from my childhood. In the “leader’s copy” it has names of family members who have since passed penciled in next to various readings. I have shared with my children who those people were.
  • As a child we always had Jewish service men and women from the local naval training center attend our seder. For a kid, these people were larger than life in their white dress uniforms and they loved to play football with me as seder was being prepared.
  • We once had seder at someone’s house and they had a wonderful custom of asking everyone to bring a current events article to discuss at the seder table. We have adopted that tradition.
Passover is the most celebrated of all the Jewish holidays -- and typically with our families gathered together. It is not only the time we tell the story of our journey from slavery to freedom, we have the opportunity (dare I say obligation) to share our own family journeys, memories, traditions, and even recipes. Pass them on! Life is short! Too often we miss the opportunity to listen, learn, and ask before regretting that we never knew.
Let me close with a few newsworthy notes:
Last week I mentioned that overnight camps in Oregon will be in session this summer. B’nai B’rith Camp and Camp Kesher are taking registrations. I am also delighted Washington State just confirmed that overnight camps will be open there. Zach Duitch, Executive Director of Camp Solomon Schechter was the co-chair of the Washington State Camp Coalition that helped lobby Governor Inslee.
The Jewish community should be proud that the directors of two Jewish overnight camps were the leaders in the statewide efforts to open all overnight camps in Oregon and Washington.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Israel’s fourth election in two years (April 2019, September 2019, March 2020, and March 2021). Well, I mentioned it. We will wait to see what materializes and if a government can be formed – or, the country will be back for a fifth try.
Speaking of Israel, you may have heard that additional Dead Sea Scroll fragments were found in the Judean Desert, the first discovery in almost 60 years. News reports show that the tiny fragments are from a scroll believed to be from around 135 CE during the Bar Kochba revoltEleven lines of text were reconstructed and included verses from the prophet Zechariah…
“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all of those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.”
Some powerful words to live by from 2,000 years ago!
Let me close with this delicious thought. I am sure that everyone’s favorite Passover delicacy is gefilte fish. Well, maybe not? But do you know (or ever even wondered) what the jelly the gefilte fish comes in is called? Yoich (broth in Yiddish). People say it is quite delicious on matzah -- maybe give it a try.
Shabbat shalom, best wishes for a kosher, zissenfreilach, and happy Passover, have beautiful seders, and next year in Jerusalem.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO
PS – The Jewish Federation office will be closed on Monday in celebration of the holiday.


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