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Passover: Memories, Loss, and Renewal | D'var Torah - April 3, 2020

Rabbi Laura Abrasley

My childhood seders took place at Harry and Ellen’s house, my maternal grandparents. The evening was loud, long, and delicious. I remember bits and pieces. Harry speed-reading from the Haggadah, a beautiful long table in the formal dining room overflowing with people, and more food than we could possibly eat. Over the years one faded memory stands out.

I’m not sure how old I was, maybe 10 or 11. Old enough to stay awake as guests lingered over coffee and dessert. And old enough to open the door for Elijah, the prophet we invite into our homes toward the end of our Passover meals. Opening the door for Elijah, a prophet who tradition suggests will announce the messianic age, was a big deal in a house full of cousins. At the appointed time, I got up from the table and made my way towards the front door, which no one could see from the table. I opened it to discover a Texas Ranger, otherwise known as a state trooper, in full uniform about to ring the doorbell. As he crossed over the threshold, I turned to announce this unexpected arrival of a Texas sized prophet. “Elijah’s here!” I shouted towards the table.[1]

I cannot tell you how much I long right now for a return to a Passover like the ones of my childhood. Even if it means letting in a very strange looking Elijah. I frankly long for a return to any year but this year. For a return to a delicious, loud and too long gathering of more people than my house can handle. For the luxury of last-minute shopping to try and find the horseradish we like because I forgot to buy it last week. For wondering how much wine it will take to convince my guests to sing along to the silly Passover parody songs I love.

Alas, Passover this year, which arrives on Wednesday night, will not be the Passover we expected or desire. We will not celebrate our story of liberation from slavery with abundance and openness. We will not squeeze in just one more person at our table, eat one more piece of Aunt Mel’s delicious, once-a-year brisket, or talk long into the night with cherished friends and family.

Passover this year is the very definition of irony. How can we possibly celebrate redemption when we find ourselves stuck in the desert of uncertainty? How can we tell the foundational story of deliverance from Egypt when we cannot gather with one another, when we are trapped at home in order to keep each other safe? How can we make sense of the ancient plagues sent to bring about Israelite redemption when a modern plague has us fearful for our lives and livelihoods?

But Passover arrives next week. And tradition teaches that we are commanded to “observe this day”[2] in every generation and explain the significance of the holiday to our children. So, we prepare in spite of ourselves, searching for an online Haggadah, researching best practices for a Zoom seder (which according to Facebook we should call a Zeder), and mourning the loss of renewal and family togetherness of Passovers past.

Including our grief in this preparation is unavoidable and also important. We need to give ourselves the space to mourn, to grieve our lives from before, even as we slowly realize that perhaps part of our former life enslaved us more than we cared to consider. We cannot and should not dismiss how much the loss of gathering hurts. And it is not helpful to suggest that this loss is less important because of all the other loss in our world right now. There is “no hierarchy of grief.”[3] All feelings matter. Owning them helps create space for the sadness even as we work to reimagine our Passover celebrations and find the joy, albeit perhaps in smaller doses, that this season of redemption demands. As you recreate your home seder, Temple Shalom wants to help. We have compiled a “best of the best list of resources” on our website. It can guide you as you create a seder that works for your family, whether it be simple and sweet or contain all the bells and whistles the Jewish internet has to offer. Additionally, we hope you will join us online Wednesday evening at 5:30 for a short TS@Home Zoom Passover Gathering. We will sing songs and light candles together, virtually welcoming each other into our homes and delighting in the smiles we can bring to one another.

Passover reminds us to remember that we too were once slaves in Egypt, longing to be free. But even as that longing resonates a little too strongly this year, we also remember that our history overflows with stories of survival and renaissance. At every devastating turn, we find a way out. We take a deep breath. We find our curiosity and our faith and our community. We reimagine and rebuild our traditions into something we never imagined.

I wish for all of us a Zissen Pesach, a sweet Passover. And I hope for humanity that next year we will gather in person to tell our reimagined and restored story of redemption, together once again.

Kein Yihi Ratzon. May this be God’s will.

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[1] You might be wondering why a Texas Ranger was at my grandparent’s door on the first night of Passover. He was not exactly an invited or expected guest but had come to deliver something to my grandfather Harry, an attorney in town.

[2] Exodus 12:14

[3] These thoughts about grief were inspired by Lori Gottlieb’s article in the NY Times online edition: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/well/family/coronavirus-grief-loss.html

Mon, October 26 2020 8 Cheshvan 5781