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Seder 2024. HOW?

We have spent the last several weeks trying to figure out how we approach seder this year. The world feels unimaginably and viscerally broken with more fear, violence and hatred than we have known in our lifetimes. I am acutely aware of the more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza – their families desperately trying to get them aid and get them home. Do they even know it’s Pesach? Israeli’s spent last Saturday night waiting for rockets sent by Iran to pummel the country. How will this escalate? People are still displaced and suffering from the trauma of October 7th. A country built on democracy and hope is flawed in its leadership and its execution – not unlike our own and so many other countries today and throughout history. Gazans try to go to sleep every night without the security of the Iron Dome, with no infrastructure to provide food, education, safety or even basic necessities. Violence in the West Bank is escalating the Us vs. Them mentality which unravels the delicate web connecting us, destroying our ability to see each other’s shared humanity and hopes to live together in peace. Here and across the world, antisemitism is rampant. In our schools and colleges, swastikas are carved into desks, protestors call for our annihilation, and Jewish students and teachers are afraid to show our Jewishness, as though we are personally responsible for the suffering in Gaza and the decisions made by the Israeli government. And what about the mothers and children in Ukraine? Syria? Sudan? How do we hold them? And what about all the other righteous causes we uplift every year such as affordable housing, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, civil rights, affordable healthcare, the right to make decisions about our own bodies, and even the right to vote? And what about the pineapple? How do we hold it all? Will we ever eat?

Every year we are commanded to tell this story of our history as though we personally came forth out of Egypt. As though each of us were slaves who made it to the Red Sea to watch the miracle of the waters parting and we danced through on dry land with our kooky Cousin Miriam and her tambourine. 

But now I wonder. Am I that kooky Cousin/Aunt? Can we hold the laughter and the joy, the silly puns, the plastic frogs and bugs, and the clapping and song amidst all this pain? How do we feast on this abundance while knowing the starvation others are experiencing? Are we being tone deaf? How do we say Dayenu when the aid and the negotiations and the prayers and the hopes all feel so insufficient? It is not enough. How do we do this? Should we be doing this? 

As a Reconstructionist Jew, I don’t do things just because they are commanded. I do them because they are meaningful and/or they bring me joy. Well, even that isn’t really true – sometimes I just do them because the practicing of the ritual and the repetition year after year, generation to generation is like yoga – it’s building muscle. And even though sometimes it’s not so meaningful, the muscles will be strong when we need them to be. 

This year, we will use those strong muscles to hold the joy and the suffering and each other as Jews did after 9/11, during the Holocaust, during the Inquisition. The same way we are commanded to dance with a groom and celebrate with a bride, and take joy in new life, we will sing, we will clap, we will tell a story – one of resilience, of family, of community. And since we’re Jews, we’ll do it with humor. We will also taste the tears of our ancestors and all those who have suffered and are still suffering. And we may even shed some more. 

This night is different from all other nights and this year is different from all other years. There are so many questions – and we may only answer a few of them. We will look across this expanded table to appreciate the preciousness of our being together and the abundance with which we do so. 

Our family does not see eye to eye on everything that is going on in our broken world and how to solve it. Each of us here tonight brings our own perspectives. Let us take a breath or even a sip of a drink as we start our wandering through this seder and hold what we can of the history and the future, of resilience, of pain and of freedom. And especially, let’s hold gratitude and hope.

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