Why Was THIS Passover Unlike Any Other?
A Most Unusual & Meaningful Pesach Seder at RTPV
For millennia, our people have been observing the festival of Passover in accordance with the narrative described in the Book of Exodus, based on the commandment, “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I came out of Egypt (Exodus 13:8). The earliest mention of a Passover seder is found in the Mishna in which Rabbi Gamliel proclaims, “One who has not said these three words – Pesach, matzoh and maror has not fulfilled one’s (literally, “his”) obligation.
While rabbis of the Talmud expounded upon the laws of Passover, the first known recorded seder service is an addendum to the prayerbook known as Sidur Rav Amram, dated 860 CE. It is not until the middle of the 13th century that an independent Haggadah came to be. In 1496 the Soncino family produced the first printed Haggadah. In 1886 the first Reform haggadah came to fruition and in 1907 the Union Haggadah, became the first official haggadah of the Reform Movement, when it is translated from German into English.
In 1932 the Maxwell House Haggadah was published and for decades became the definitive haggadah for non-Reform Jews in America, Following World War II and the Holocaust, a series of new haggadot were written and in 1974 our Reform Movement produced one not only written in contemporary English but offered a unique approach as it weaved in issues of the day in concert with the themes of Passover. In subsequent decades, a plethora of Haggadot (Hebrew plural for Haggadah) reflecting a host of orientations and concerns have been created.
While the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley has long enjoyed a congregational seder, given the constraints of COVID, it was decided that this year we would approach Passover, in an “out of the box” manner. In the spirit of “it takes a village,” a small group gathered to create a seder experience that would not only reflect that major themes of Passover, but would look at the liturgy through a 21st century lens. Accordingly, within the context of modified seder in regards to food, we explored both the ancient plagues as well as those that are rife in our world, such as gun violence, attacks on reproductive rights, racism, homophobia and the unprecedented rise of anti-Semitism. We equally underscored those who are marginalized in society including women, people of color, those with disabilities or mental illness, indigenous people, of course the one minority continually oppressed throughout history – the Jewish people.
Through song and prayer we explored the concept of both the “pharaohs” that prevail in our world and looked at our own internal chametz, or areas that call for self-improvement and growth – both on the individual level and as a collective Jewish family. While serious and spirited discussion ensued, there was indeed much warmth and laughter that prevailed throughout the evening.
The experience was a powerful one for all who attended and hopefully the issues discussed will continue to resonate for all long after Passover has come to an end. As Torah commands, we are to remember that we were strangers so that in each generation, when we see injustice and inequality, we will speak and act up and work for change. Indeed, this a resounding message central to Judaism.
As Reform Jews, we are called upon to continually revisit our past and long-standing traditions and creatively seek new means for expression. Our seder experience underscored the notion that we cannot be content with the status quo, but we must ever question, wrestle with ourselves and societal ills and explore new ways for all to live together in an equitable fashion.
Needless to say, we had a most fulfilling experience. I so look to our “village” continuing to think “outside of the box” and creatively responding to Jewish tradition and our world.
Rabbi Andrew R. Sklarz, DD, MSW, MA