Thursday, March 29, 2018

First Day of Pesach: More and More and More Questions!

I love, and am continuously frustrated by, the Passover Seder. Though perhaps not for the reasons you might think. To me, the Seder is a playful, joyful, provocative,
challenging, and exciting evening of history and questions and fun. But people mess it up! They see it as rigid, rule-focused, and antiquated. Take, for example, the four questions. People are often obsessed with the recitation of the Four Questions, the Ma Nishtana, but miss that they are really there as a prompt; challenging you to ask more and more and more questions. This week, as we begin Pesach, I find myself especially frustrated... and longing for some new questions.

I recently read a terrific article by the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Arnie Eisen, entitled “Four new questions from the four children.” Chancellor Eisen challenges his readers to add questions, and ones that specifically address the problems we see
around us in the world today. He concludes by stating: "to younger participants at 2018 seders, I express the fervent hope that you ask especially good questions this year that call older participants to account for the unfinished Exodus work to which Passover summons us." Isn't this what we ALL need to do? Young and old(er) alike? Ask new questions, and poignant ones, that make us think and feel something? So here's one that might challenge you a little bit:

Who gets to tell "our" story? A few days ago, I saw a performance of "The Diary of Anne Frank," portrayed by a multiracial cast. The play was excellent, and after an initial eyebrow-raising moment of seeing African-American and Asian actors wearing Jewish stars, race became essentially a non-issue throughout the
production. Except, perhaps, when the diversity on stage ELEVATED the meaning and power of the story. One of the most powerful moments, for me, was when the German soldiers barged in and all these people, of different minorities, were marched out at gunpoint… together. But this particular performance has drawn controversy. Some critics, especially Jewish ones, are vehemently opposed to anyone but Jews portraying these historical figures. To which I have to ask: why? Is the message of this tragic story not a universal one? Or even if this IS a Jewish story, do we not want others to see - and feel - themselves in our plight? Here is perhaps an even harder question: Would these critics be as uncomfortable if the actors were non-Jews… but white?

This year, people everywhere are talking about democracy and democratic values. Both the Passover story AND the vital testimonies from the Holocaust remind us - insistently - that as long as there is tyranny, we must continue to fight… and fight with and for one another. Our stories are intertwined; and as long as they are done with respect, sensitivity, and dignity, we should share ALL our stories with people
who want to learn and know... and question. Change will only be possible if we walk this path together. I implore you: Please, please do NOT allow your Seder to remain rigid or antiquated. There are too many vital questions that we need to ask right now. The children of today are already asking some of the toughest questions. But the responsibility is surely not theirs alone. This Passover, you need to ask yourself if you are ready to heed the underlying messages of the Seder, and stand up for freedom and equality like our ancestors did 4,000 - as well as 70 - years ago. Isn't it time?

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image from the Arthur Szyk Haggadah (I own a copy...) courtesy of Allison.c.chang on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image of a Seder for new immigrants to Israel, ca 1945, courtesy of Pikiwikisrael on Wikimedia Commons 
3. Image from "The Diary of Anne Frank," as performed at People's Light theater
4. CC image from the March for Our Lives (with signs reading "Enough" - "Dayeinu"...) courtesy of MB298 on Wikimedia Commons

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