The two stars of Passover most commonly are the seder and matzah. Like many Jewish holidays, they commemorate our deliverance from danger: the Egyptians tried to kill us, we escaped, let’s attend a seder and eat matzah – for eight days. But in my opinion, the unsung hero of the Passover experience is the Haggadah, the seder guide that tells the story of the Exodus.
I recently came across this quote at haggadot.com:
“We’re all so unique. How do we bring our full personalities to the table? Wouldn’t it be great if we could embrace tradition and start a conversation that reflects our interesting, hilarious, modern, multi-cultural thought-provoking lives?”
That sounds like audacious hospitality to me!
Indeed, Passover – my favorite Jewish holiday – is a model of what modern Judaism can be in this era of multi-faceted Jewish identities. With its symbolism and metaphors, liberation from oppression, pursuit of justice, delicious foods, silliness, music, and time with family, Passover has it all.
The ever-growing selection of available Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) and topic-specific inserts exemplify how we can successfully and boldly weave the traditional together with the new – from the classic Maxwell House Haggadah to those inspired by the creativity, wisdom, and celebration of queer Jewish identity and gender diversity within our community. Beautiful, engaging Haggadot are available from the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and a new insert – focused on youth engagement – is available from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).
What’s more, the seder is full of opportunities to enjoy longstanding Jewish traditions from around the world. Various enduring customs and melodies from Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Ugandan, Indian, and Moroccan communities, among others, can be integrated together seamlessly with new practices and discussions. (Personally, I most enjoy Passover songs sung to the melodies of show tunes!)
Just as Haggadot can introduce new ideas, some of my favorite seders, too, have educated and inspired family, friends, and me to act around shared values and common social justice causes:
- Reform congregations around North America often host interfaith seders with neighboring churches or mosques.
- This year, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has developed a racial justice insert for the seder, and the URJ recently produced this resource designed to help parents and congregations empower teens to be a more active part of the seder and engage as leaders with those around them.
- In 2009, a seder hosted by Jews United for Justice focused on labor rights, relating the story of the Exodus to the struggles of day laborers.
- More recently, I was profoundly moved by the discussion that ensued from the presence of a padlock and key on my friend Emilia’s family seder plate. I read aloud, “We…ally ourselves with those who are behind bars, with those who are labelled as felons in the community, and with the parents, children, and other family members of those who are locked up and locked out. The key represents our commitment, as Jews who know a history of oppression, to join the movement to end mass incarceration in the United States. The key reminds us of our potential to partner with the Source of Liberation to unlock a more promising, dignified future for us all.”
The ways we can integrate the most treasured and meaningful elements of our individual and collective experiences into the Passover seder are endless, and the same is true for congregational life and Reform Judaism as a whole. In doing so, we demonstrate that the Union for Reform Judaism and our entire movement stand for a Judaism that is not only inclusive and open, but also one in which there are endless ways way to be authentically Jewish. The URJ’s audacious hospitality initiative focuses on a bold embrace of Jewish diversity, as well as providing a robust and ever-expanding menu of engagement and community-building opportunities.
In seizing this and other opportunities to reimagine Jewish life and purpose, we will help individuals and families – Jews, seekers, and those who haven’t yet found a path – to lead lives of wholeness, justice, and compassion.