To Christian Friends Coming to Seder

Image: A Seder at Mark and Dawn’s house. Photo by Linda Burnett.

Dear Friends,

I’m so glad that you will be joining us for seder this Passover. The seder is a core experience of Jewish life and hospitality. We’re glad to have you.

After a few experiences with guests at the seder table, I’ve learned that it helps if you get a little orientation ahead of time. So, some history:

The seder goes back to the time just after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 of the common era (which you perhaps call “70 AD.”) Our people were distraught at the loss of our Temple, at the violence of the Roman armies, and we looked desperately for a way to make sure that the central story of our heritage, our deliverance from Egypt, would be handed down intact.

You see, up until that time it was our custom to travel to Jerusalem for the festival every year. It is one of three such “pilgrimage festivals” in Judaism. Families would travel long distances to camp in the valleys and hills around Jerusalem. On the last day before the festival, the head of each household would carry a lamb or goat down to the Temple, where the priests would slaughter it ritually and begin the process of roasting it before they handed the roast back to the householder. Then he (usually he) would return to the family and they would finish roasting the meat, munching on unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs as was commanded in the Torah. While all this went on, there was storytelling by the elders and children, telling the story of our deliverance from Egypt. That’s how Passover was celebrated while the Temple still stood.

After the Temple was destroyed, we could no longer have the animal sacrifices, because we can only make those sacrifices in the Temple. Our elders made the decision to use the most powerful teaching practice of the time to transmit our story. That practice was the symposium banquet, a Greek custom at which wealthy free men reclined around a table, enjoying food and wine and discussing important issues. So from that time to this, we recline around the table, using the Haggadah, a script, to discuss our story at a level that everyone at the table can enjoy, linking our story to music and the tastes and odors of delicious food.

That’s what the Passover Seder is: a sacred moment in which we pass on the heritage of our people, experiencing it anew every year. The seder has served us well, seeing us through centuries of persecution and exile. It differs from the symposium in that we make the declaration “Let all who are hungry come and eat:” the learning offered at the seder is for anyone who is hungry for it, not only the privileged. Men, women and children participate at the seder table.

You may have heard from someone about links to your own Christian story. It’s true: Passover (Pesach) is mentioned in your New Testament. The gospels say that the events leading up to Easter took place during the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. However, it is not true that the “Last Supper” was a Passover seder. Think about it: the Temple was still standing in the year 33; it would be standing for 37 more years. Jesus never went to a Passover seder, although as an observant Jew, he certainly took part in the Passover observances of his time: the sacrifices, the storytelling, and the unleavened bread.

So here’s what I ask: when you come to sit at my seder table, be there for a Jewish experience. I’m inviting you into my world on one of the holiest nights of its year. Just as I would not come into your church for Christmas services and tell everyone about all the Jewish content in the service, don’t come to a seder table to teach about Jesus. We both know that there are connections, and if you feel powerfully about that, press your minister or priest for interfaith dialogue events. There are many days of the year when those would be appropriate. Christmas, Easter, Rosh HaShanah and Passover are not those days; they are days when each community has its own important work to do.

I’m glad you are coming to my seder table, and I hope that you have a wonderful evening with us. Pesach sameach! (PAY-sokh sah-MAY-ahkh) – Happy Passover!

L’shalom,

Rabbi Ruth Adar

P.S. – For more advice about getting the most out of your first seder read Seven Ways to be a Great Passover Guest.

Passover is Friday Night and I Am Not Quite Ready

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My Passover preparations have been a bit more complicated this year. I’ve been sick and I will lead the community seder at Temple Sinai on the second night of Pesach, so I have to “go easy” the first night to save my energy. On the plus side, in the last year I began using a cleaning service, so I have been able to delegate some of the more strenuous parts of Passover prep.

Every year is different. Every year Egypt looks a little different. This year, Egypt is pain and debilitation and the frustration that goes with that. Salvation, I suspect, will come in a clever mix of creative solutions and inner acceptance – and in the seders themselves, which teach me something new every year.

I’m actually ahead of myself with prep. I have enough bran cereal for tomorrow morning, then it’s gone. I gave away most of the packaged chametz already – I have one bag of blueberry muffin mix and assorted small things to go into the Food Bank bin Wednesday evening. I have one more meal’s worth of pasta. Everything else is eaten, given away, or thrown out. The fridge is clean. The kitchen will get its final cleaning Friday morning. The house is chametzless, with the exception of my bedroom (I had to eat a couple of meals in bed) but Thursday morning we’re going to finish that.

Shopping’s done. I’m not cooking for seder this year, but it’s important to make sure that I’ve got plenty of good kosher for Passover food on hand – so I’ve got extra eggs and potatoes and I ordered some extra fresh things from the organic box service. First night Linda and I will have a Movie Seder, to conserve my energy.

I’m going out to dinner with a friend tonight, and I’m looking forward to it with extra fervor, because during Passover I won’t eat out at all.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, please take a look at Passover Prep for Beginners. The essential thing is to get to a seder. Everything else can be a learning process.

How are your preparations going?

 

Men, Women, and the Toilet

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Image: A sign designating a women’s restroom. Public domain.

I was once followed into a bathroom by a man, back in the 1990’s.

It was a ladies’ room in a shopping mall, a small room tucked away between the parking structure and the shops. I heard the door open behind me and I glanced back. A man was coming in, looking straight at me, and the look on his face made my blood curdle. I ran right at him and ducked beneath his arm on my way out of the door. I began screeching, hoping that someone, anyone would hear.

I screamed all the way into the mall. He did not follow. I heard him laugh.

I had forgotten all about it until the recent spate of laws aimed at keeping transgender folks out of bathrooms. Like many women, I have a list of scary memories I try to avoid. If I dwelled on them I would never leave the house again.

I tell this story to point out the great flaw in the bathroom worries: men who are up to no good don’t need to say they are transgender to go into the ladies’ room. They just walk in. They always have.

As for the discomfort issue (I suspect, the real issue) there are many women with whom I’m uncomfortable in the bathroom. The ones who pee all over the seat and leave it that way; the ones who hog the sink while they get their makeup just so; the ones who sit in the single handicap stall and play games on their phone while I sit on my scooter outside, hoping I won’t have “an accident.” Oh, yes, and there are the ones who wear perfume as if it were a chemical weapon!

I don’t like them. I don’t want to share with them. But I do because they need a place to pee, too.

Trans women are no danger to me. In the men’s room they are in deadly danger.

There are no cases, ever, anywhere, of a man  posing as a woman to get access to women in the toilet. That’s because they don’t need to do that: if they are up to no good, they waltz right in.

Shabbat Shalom! Metzora

This week’s Torah portion is called Metzora, meaning “one who has tzara’at.” Tzara’at is described in the portion as a disease, and it usually translated “leprosy,” although there is near-universal agreement that it is NOT Hansen’s Disease, which is what moderns usually mean by “leprosy.”

Tzara’at (tzah-RAH-aht) is something that affects human skin, houses, or fabric. It is diagnosed by the kohen, the priest, and treatment involves sacrifices and procedure that are oddly similar to those required for ordaining priests in Leviticus 8-10.

The parashah concludes with a discussion of bodily discharges and the problems of ritual purity that result.

What does all of this mean? I’ll leave that up to the writers of this week’s divrei Torah:

Plagues, cleansing, and Pesach House-cleaning by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

A Plague on Your House by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

An Object Lesson in Convalescence by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Attitude Shows What is Happening Inside by Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Doing the next right thing, with humble and positive attitude by Rabbi Mark Borovitz (VIDEO)

Shabbat Hagadol by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Metzora by Chazan Jaclyn Chernett

Down but Not Out

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This is my view at the moment. Jojo and Gabi watch over me as I work to get over another bout of sciatica. That’s the reason my posts have been sparse of late; sitting aggravates the nerve and makes things worse.

Illness is a spiritual challenge. Questions are natural: why me?

Our ancestors struggled with these questions. They played with many possible answers:

– Maybe illness is a punishment for sin?
– Maybe illness is a test from God?
– Maybe there are demons that cause illness?
– Maybe God isn’t paying attention?
– Does God care?

Today science explains the sources of some illness, but it doesn’t answer our spiritual questions.

I don’t believe that illness is a punishment or a test. Nor do I think it is a contest. My concept of God is a God who does not interfere with nature, a God who manifests in the the Unity behind Nature.

I am aging. I have old neglected injuries. Sometimes they are going to bother me. These are facts that I cannot change.

Besides these facts, I have choices. I can choose to be a mensch. I can choose to do my exercises. I can choose to use my time to study and rest.

Yesterday I learned a story. Prisoners in one of the Nazi camps asked a rabbi: “Since we are enslaved here, should we say the morning blessing thanking God that we are free?” The rabbi paused to consider. “Yes,” he replied, “Whatever they do to our bodies, our souls, our spirits are free.”

As our Festival of Freedom approaches, let us all think about the gift of freedom. What shall we do with it?

Junk Foods of Pesach

My colleague and friend Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder posted this photo and question on Facebook recently:

fruitslices
Good or Evil? Discuss.

In case you are wondering what’s actually in there:

00773_MA_Fruit_Slices_8z

The discussion that followed was very funny, with many different camps. Some people have wonderful childhood associations for these little slices of fruit flavored agar. Others were firm that they are “Evil!” Still others were torn – “Both!”

It set me to thinking about my own reaction to many processed Passover foods. I do not attach moral values to food, but golly, some of these things are weird if you didn’t grow up with them. For instance, to my mind, “Fruit Slices” are basically sugar that comes with glue to stick it between your teeth. There’s better candy to be had.

ChocMatzoMy favorite Passover junk food is chocolate covered matzah, which will probably be a mystery to many of my readers. How good it is depends mostly on the quality of the chocolate. This year I have bought Fair Trade Chocolate for Passover, which I know is (1) good chocolate and (2) ethically produced. I’m planning to dip the matzah in chocolate myself, then drizzle it with caramel. It will be delicious and not junk food at all, more of a Passover dessert!

Most of the processed Passover foods are junk, that is, foods without significant nutritional value. One exception is gefilte fish, which can be a good source of protein. A piece of gefilte fish has more protein than a large egg!

Passover is a festival of springtime. While the food manufacturers would like us to buy things in boxes labeled “Kosher for Passover,” I prefer to make it a festival of fruits and vegetables. The strawberries are often at their peak for Pesach. Asparagus is another food that’s just right at that time. Other goodies will be coming ripe, depending on where you live. Once the seder is over, I dispense with the matzah and just eat the lovely things that are growing this time of year.

Enjoy your Passover treats, be they fresh strawberries or chocolate matzah, or even Fruit Slices!

P.S. In case you are wondering, Maneschewitz, Osem, and the Fair Trade Chocolate people have not paid me to promote their products. The only product I recommend you buy is the Fair Trade Chocolate, since most chocolate on the market today is produced by enslaved persons, mostly children.

Welcome to Nisan!

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Adar is gone and Nisan is upon us!

Nisan was counted as the first month of the year in the Biblical calendar, in which it is called “Aviv.” That is one reason that 1st Nisan is one of the four New Years in the Jewish calendar.  Nisan is the Babylonian name for the month, which we brought back from Babylon when Cyrus the Great authorized the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Babylonian Exile ended. (Ezra 1:1-2)

Nisan has important holidays and observances:

  • 14 NisanFast of the Firstborn – falls on 12 Nisan when the 14th falls on Sabbath
  • 15-21 NisanPassover – also 22 Nisan in the Diaspora, except for Reform Jews.
  • 27 NisanYom HaShoah – falls on 26 Nisan or 28 Nisan when the 27th falls on Friday or Sunday respectively, interfering with Shabbat.

So now that it’s Nisan, time is very short to prepare for Passover! Some articles that may help:

Passover Preparation for Beginners (Good if you are feeling overwhelmed or confused)

Preparing for Passover: Six Ways to Prepare (Expands the possibilities a bit)

7  Facts about Passover (for very beginners)

Preparing for Exodus: Books  Books about Passover

Seven Things to Do to Make Your First Passover Seder a Success

Seven Ways to Be a Great Passover Seder Guest