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What I Learned from My “Lost Passover”

What I Learned from My “Lost Passover”

Pocketwatch partially buried in sand

Two years ago, this sacred Jewish season was my “Lost Passover.” For the first time in my life, I did not attend a seder. A strep infection of unknown origin had centered in my left rear thigh and was poisoning my body. I was in the hospital, fighting for my life.

Following surgery to drain the infection and 19 steel staples to close the wound, the only acknowledgment I could give Passover was to attend Yizkor services at the Jewish rehab center where I spent a week after my release from the hospital. At Passover’s close, my son, Ben, smuggled in a pizza, so I could end the festival-long period of not eating leavened products in style.

With help from six weeks of massive doses of intravenously administered antibiotics and months of physical therapy to relearn to walk, I returned to normal activities and by the end of the summer, thankfully, I felt fine.

This year, we are blessed to be in Sanibel, FL, where I am the rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. With my health fully restored, I recently completed a 13-1 season as part of the number one duo on the Beachview Tennis Club’s blue team. More important, it was my honor and privilege to conduct a seder for 176 people on the first night of our people’s Festival of Freedom.

The two-year journey from “My Lost Passover” to the one I found awaiting me in Sanibel seems like a dream, sent as a reminder that every day is special, offering each of us a new, sacred opportunity to make a difference – even a small one – in the lives of others. Indeed, transforming a communal dinner into a journey from slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity is a privilege I no longer take for granted.

More than leading the rituals, the privilege is helping people understand that during the seder, we experience slavery and our journey to redemption again, to help others – in whatever ways we can – to make the same journey in other circumstances. And there are plenty of circumstances in our world that continue to enslave people: human trafficking, addiction, greed, sweatshop conditions, homelessness, disease, lack of affordable health care, gun violence, and abject poverty, are only some of the many forms of bondage that afflict so many, even today.

Although we may not be able to singlehandedly redeem the world by curing cancer or making peace between warring nations, if we put our minds to it, each of us can make a meaningful contribution to redemption. As my lost Passover taught me well, if you are thinking about helping another person in any way, do it today. Tomorrow may be too late.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. A prolific writer, he is the author of several books, the most recent of which is …And Often the First Jew. Rabbi Fuchs earned a D. Min in Biblical Interpretation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, which, in 2017, named him its “Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.”

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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