This Year I am Bringing Myself to the Seder
By Ilana Fodiman-Silverman
Do you remember the day your child was born? Or when you first discovered your life’s passion? There are moments in life that change the course of the way that we live and the way that we see the world. On the seder night, we travel back in time to re-experience one such moment when we transitioned from slaves to a nation redeemed. Before even leaving Egypt, the narrative itself records the slaves instruction to bear witness to this story for future generations. The seder night is the fulfillment of that charge. As the inheritors of this narrative, we are asked to tell the story as our own.
With all of the focus before Passover around cleaning and preparing a meal, serving as gracious hosts and guests reading a text, perhaps the hardest part of the holiday is stepping forward and positioning ourselves as a part of the journey. The structure is set, with foods that conjure up feelings of bitterness, tension, and freedom and choreography of reclining to help experience the majesty of liberation. This year I am challenging myself with four questions of my own to coax me along as a pilgrim on our journey.
- Am I ready to disturb my harmonious table? While I brim with pride in the 4 year old’s rote recitation of the four questions, am I really ready to disturb the equilibrium and create a welcome reception for questions of every sort? Am I ready to open up about what the narrative of the Jewish people means to me? Can I divert the goal of the night from, fluffy matza balls to strides on my journey?
- Do I recognize the people at my table as part of my whole? Inspired by the Indian fable of the blind men who touch separate parts of an elephant, from the firm long tusk to the leathery stumped feet. When the men report their very different experiences they are met with disbelief. How could one truth be experienced so differently? The diversity of experience is part of our collective memory. One freed slave might lament the lingering back pain from the arduous brick making, while another might hear the reverberating euphoric sounds of tambourines as the sea split. Not only do I want my table to include people who are hungry, I want to hear them. I want to imagine ways of experiencing the exodus like only an 8 yr old, a single mom, a holocaust survivor, or an artist could open up. I want to listen. I want to listen to parts of my story I don’t even know about.
- What about a story from so long ago resonates for me today? My husband will retell the journey of his mother and grandmother who cooked their holiday food, lit candles, removed the mezuzah from their home and set out on foot to escape from Communist Hungary on Passover. I will include a page from a Haggada published in Stamford, Connecticut in the 1970s dedicated to the Jews of the Soviet Union prevented from living as Jews, but remembered by their nation around the world. The page awakens in me testimony of hope – the transformation of a reality I knew as true in my lifetime, as people once jailed for being Jews are now leading members of the government of the modern Jewish state. The questions of God’s role in guiding history, a raised awareness of modern slavery and my responsibility to it are all there on the table. I want to consider every stop on my journey and question where it takes me next.
- Can I avoid the temptation of the easy kitsch for the integrity of the message? With regard to ready-made props, the plagues win the gold with sensationalistic opportunities – from chocolate covered locusts that ooze blood to ten plague manicure nail decals. While I am all for talking about the glory of God, I’m not all that interested in spending my night focusing on the prolonged suffering people endured because of their stubbornness. It’s a sideline to the main story I want to share. An element that I take seriously and grapple with. If anything I want to highlight why I dip my finger in my glass, removing drops of wine, to reflect a sensitivity to their suffering. While the ‘anything that keeps them awake and engaged’ theory is attractive, I’d like to avoid cheap laughs and entertainment and aim for an opportunity to tell the story that moves me. I want to make the time to make bindles with a branch and bandana and fill it with ‘bare-necessities’ for leaving Egypt, tambourines from card stock and streamers to whip out for the songs of liberation, fill a pillowcase with a collection of random objects and ask people to pull one out and unleash their imagination to explain how it was a part of the exodus?
Opportunities are endless, and the story is mine/yours/ours to tell. The first step is showing up.
Ilana Fodiman-Silverman is Co-Founder of Moed, promoting a vibrant engagement with Jewish life in Israel. The organization celebrates the diversity present in modern Israel with innovative programming aimed at a shared exploration of Judiasm in study and action.