I’ve just finished “Fight for the Health of Your Community” – a new collection of Passover seder readings I wrote for members of my congregation. I’m happy to share them with the wider world as well – and sincerely hope you’ll find them helpful if you are holding/attending a seder this year.
It goes without saying that this year is a Passover like no other. As I wrote in the opening reading:
Before we raise the cup to another Passover, we must acknowledge that this night is very different from all other nights. In this extraordinary moment of global pandemic, we are literally dwelling in the “narrow place” of social separation. Thus, we come to the very first question of the evening: how on earth do we fulfill the mitzvah to observe the Passover seder? Where do we even begin?
Since the dictates of social separation render the group seders impossible, many families and groups are already planning to hold theirs’ via Zoom or other web-based platforms. There are already many online guides with tips on web-based seders that you may find useful. While I personally believe that there is no one perfect approach, I do recommend that seder leaders familiarize themselves with their specific online platform and to keep things simple and doable.
I want to stress that this particular resource is not a haggadah – and is not designed to be used in its entirety. I strongly agree with one online guide when it points out: “the seder should not be dominated by making connections of the virus to the Exodus story but it does need to be addressed in some capacity.” In this collection I’ve written one reading for each section of the seder and recommend picking and choosing the one/s you find most meaningful. While the extent to which COVID-19 is addressed will vary, I believe the most successful seders will be the ones that view the Exodus narrative as a spiritual frame to contextualize this unprecedented moment.
I wish you and those you love a happy, healthy and liberating Pesach. May we all make our way through this fearful moment together. And as I write here, “May this time of brokenness lead to a deeper solidarity between all who are ready to fight for a better world.”
Click here for a copy of the pdf.
Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is meant to be recited at the point when the door would traditionally be opened for Elijah:
The door is opened and we say:
And when your children ask you what
was Passover like that year,
you will tell them:
Yes, we shared our meal at separate tables,
in separate homes, behind closed doors
and yes, at times it almost felt like we
were the Israelites huddling in the night
behind their painted doorposts,
hoping, praying that the Angel of Death
would pass them by.
Except it wasn’t like that at all:
there were no Israelites, no Egyptians
no capricious, punishing God;
just all of us telling the story together,
the way we did every year
even if we knew nothing
would ever be the same again.
Then when the time came,
we opened our doors wide
and called out from table to table:
Let all who are broken gather
each another’s scattered, shattered pieces,
let all who seek liberation
find a place at the table
let all who hunger for a new world
come and eat.
Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is an intro to Karpas (green vegetable dipped in salt water):
Keep looking out your window
even as the earth hardens into stone
even as the salt stings your eyes
even if it looks like nothing will ever grow again.
Just keep a sharp lookout
for that flash of green in the distance.
You won’t want to be looking away
when the message arrives at last:
Spring is coming.
It’s time dry your tears.
The season of our liberation is at hand.
In my weaker moments I imagine
that you sent this plague
as punishment for our iniquity,
but deep down in my heart I know
that’s not your way.
In fleeting moments of clarity,
I picture you gazing out at us
and ruefully asking out loud:
Don’t you know that I really don’t need
to inflict punishments on you?
Can’t you see you’re doing a pretty good job
inflicting punishments on yourselves?
Even now I’m astonished that
this terrible moment still hasn’t taught you
that no matter how hard you try
you cannot hide from one another.
Even now you cannot see
that the lines you’ve drawn
will not protect you,
that viruses care nothing for national borders,
that pandemics do not stop at walls
checkpoints and security fences.
I look on in wonder as the powerful,
your so-called leaders,
close the gates even tighter,
warning citizens not to congregate
even as they increasingly herd humanity
into prisons, detention centers
and refugee camps.
Even now I’m astonished
by the rampant ignorance of those
who still believe the absurd lines
they’ve drawn in the sand will
somehow keep them safe.
And now it has come to this:
you must sit closed up in your homes
keeping your distance from one another
that your communities might survive.
I can only hope that
in this moment of separation,
you will finally come to see
how connected you truly are –
for this may well be your final chance
to grasp the most basic of lessons:
that in the end,
you only have each other.
This prayer might be painful
for you to hear, but it’s all I have.
All I ask is that you listen to my words
and please don’t turn away:
A new and unfamiliar fear
has been growing within me.
Every day the walls close in,
every day the world bears down upon me
just a little bit more.
I’m staggering under the weight
of voices assailing me from every direction.
I’m unsure of what to do, what to think,
I don’t know what is real and what is false,
whether to stay in or venture out,
I can’t tell if my comfort is complacency,
if my worries are hysteria.
Every day I read of illness and death
and I dream of escape.
I see the birds building their nests
outside my window
and dream of flying far, far away,
to a place untouched by fear or sorrow.
Our leaders have utterly failed us;
they wander in confusion
without a care for our well-being.
I trust only in scientists and care-givers,
I depend only upon my friends,
my neighbors, my community.
I know we will only survive
if we care for one another.
How long will I dwell
in this strange new kingdom?
How many will be stricken,
how many will fall?
Will I make it safely
to the other side?
As I contemplate your familiar silence,
I realize I don’t really require an answer –
perhaps just the reassurance that whatever happens,
we’ll bear each other along the way
with kindness, decency and love
until our long sleepless night is through
and the warm light of a new day rises
to envelop us once more.
Even as they tell us to find safety
in separation, I feel your presence
and my soul soars beyond
these four walls.
And so with spirit ascending,
I’m sending out this song:
Pray for the peace of your community.
Pray for those you love
and for those you’ll never know.
Pray for those who are working overtime
to keep us healthy and safe,
for those who are fighting every hour,
every second, to keep us alive.
For the sake of my family and friends,
for the sake of all who dwell on earth:
I wish you peace.
I will stand with you.
I will fight for you.
Even if I cannot see you,
Even though I cannot hold you.
Your well-being is forever bound
up with my own.
Savor this eternal moment
and hold it close,
before you leave the world to come
and re-enter the world as it is,
before your sweet dream
reverts back to hard truth.
For this much we know:
long after the day is done
the melody of this song will
reverberate through our souls,
driving us forward until the day
that liberation is finally won.
One day very soon,
the song will lead us
to a dream fulfilled, to a place
where light and gladness,
joy and wonder, justice and salvation
flow without cease.
But for now we’ll prepare ourselves
for the work ahead –
let’s light the fire, raise the cup
and breathe in the sweetness
of this moment.
With strength renewed
and spirit re-inspired it’s time
to rejoin the struggle.
Blessed is the One who separates
between inspiration and fulfillment,
exile and return,
struggle and liberation,
hard work and sweet victory,
between the world we know
and the world we know is possible.