AP NEWS

Passover Remembering ancient stories, celebrating today’s freedoms

April 15, 2019

Passover is about celebrating the blessing of living in freedom, and sharing the idea that it’s a basic human right. It’s also about recognizing there are still people who aren’t free, and that we — everyone — must continue working to rectify that horror.

“The ideas behind Passover resonate with people of all ages and all nationalities,” says Rabbi Laurie Gold, of Temple Beth Elohim, in Brewster, N.Y. “We celebrate the fact that we, the Israelites, were slaves in Egypt for many generations, and with God’s help and Moses and many other people, we were freed.

“I think people recognize there is always the potential for Jews or any group to not be free. During the Passover Seder, the ritual portion of our dinner, we’re told to imagine that we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt.”

Doing so is a way to empathize with those slaves and to understand it’s “a very great feeling, a primal, exciting feeling to go from slavery to freedom.”

If you’ve ever been to a Passover Seder, you know the story of how God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt is shared aloud, to be passed on to future generations. “It also reminds us not to take freedom for granted, or by extension, not to take any of the blessings we have for granted.”

At many Seders she’s attended, Gold says the leader has usually taken time to talk about how other people are still not free in our world. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Jews in Russia were not free to practice their religion and were not free to leave their country. Sexual trafficking, another form of slavery, is still going on, too, she says.

“I try not to get political, but I can’t help but think of people in cages down at the border (between the United States and Mexico). They are certainly not free. Regardless of your politics, this is a reminder that people are not free.”

According to the Torah, “every year we are supposed to remember the story of Passover,” Gold says. “In my mind, it is amazing that almost 4,000 years later we are following that commandment to remember it ... I think it’s pretty cool, and miraculous, too.”

Sharing part of the story, Gold says after the Israelites were freed (following a series of plagues) and were fleeing Egypt, the Egyptians decided to chase them. “They came to the Sea of Reeds,” she says, noting it was not the Red Sea, as many have said. “When the water parted, the Jews were able to go through the dry land, or at least the muddy land. But when the Egyptians followed, the water fell and they drowned.”

Gold says it’s important to point out, “we are not supposed to rejoice in the suffering of our enemies,” even though they’d enslaved the Jews and were going to do it again. “It’s a wonderful idea to follow because if we do not rejoice in the pain of our enemies, it makes us a kinder people. It doesn’t mean we should not protect ourselves and beware of our enemies, but enjoying their suffering is another level, and not something we should do.”

This is a great lesson to teach people, she says. It’s kind of like what former first lady Michelle Obama has said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Another way to make the Seder more meaningful, she says, is to talk about how the Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” means narrow place, and if you look at a map of Egypt, you’ll see it’s narrow.

Gold says near the close of her Seders, she sometimes points out to people that if there’s a narrow place in their life (something constrictive/uncomfortable) that they want to get through, like conquering an addiction or being brave enough to chase their dreams, it can be good to talk about it. And they should remember the Israelites were able to escape their narrow place of spiritual and physical bondage, so it may not be easy, but it can happen.

“I don’t turn it into a therapy group, but sometimes we do this near the end of the Seder when people are comfortable and feeling it’s a safe space to talk,” she says.

As for making the Seder more engaging for children, Gold says when the story is shared at Temple Beth Elohim they sometimes use props, such as little plastic frogs, to represent the plague of frogs — one of 10 plagues that occurred before the Egyptians freed the Israelites. “We have these plastic frogs and throw them up in the air. I also have finger puppets for all 10 plagues and I wear them. Sometimes I let the kids wear them.”

Seder means “order” and the reason it’s called a Seder is because the prayers which are said are in a certain order. Specific foods are also eaten, some of which are symbols that help tell the Passover story. The story is read from a book called the Haggadah, a Hebrew word for “the telling.”

Among the symbolic foods on the Seder plate are an egg, to suggest rebirth, and salt water, to represent the tears of the slaves. There’s also charoset, a delicious mixture of chopped apples, nuts and wine, meant to resemble the mortar slaves used to build pyramids. (In countries where there are no apples, apricots or other fruits are used).

“Each item is discussed to bring the story alive,” Gold says. “Another reason people love Passover is because it’s like Thanksgiving. People want an excuse to come together. So many people live across the country; some of my relatives are in California. People try to come together to be with loved ones for Passover. It’s a great excuse to be with family.”

Passover begins at sundown on Friday. Temple Beth Elohim will have a Seder on the second night of Passover, Saturday, April 20, and all are welcome, regardless of religious affiliation. It will be a celebration of freedom with spirited singing and a delicious meal prepared by Ledley Caterers. For pricing and other details, call 845-279-4585 ext. 1, or email templebethelohim@comcast.net .

Linda Tuccio-Koonz is a staff writer. lkoonz@newstimes.com;

Twitter: @LindaTKoonz