(Translation note: A "Zayde" is a grandpa)
Every Spring for several thousand years an event takes place in small intimate groups around the world that stirs up trouble for the status quo and awakens the rebelliousness and compassion of many good people. It's called a Passover Seder and numerous social scientists consider it the most effective and enduring grass roots organizing event in human history. (Primarily because each year millions of small clusters of women and men gather to talk about what it means to be oppressed, what it takes to be free, and how to bring more empathy and courage into the world. In fact, many social change activists--both Jewish and non-Jewish--admit they got a crucial dose of their inspiration at Passover Seders).
Unfortunately, some people have never been to an inspiring Seder. They've only been to the boring kind where an inflexible patriarch goes on for 4 or 5 hours with little or no participation. Ironically, the essence of the Seder is to let each person (believer, skeptic, religious, or non-religious) ask questions and wrestle with the profound ideas for how to break out of our human mitzrayim (a Hebrew word that means not only Egypt but also can mean narrowness, constriction, enslavements, addictions, aggravations, confinements). Yet many Seders around the world have nice silverware and china, but are closer in leadership style to Pharaoh's hard-heartedness rather than the rebellious and compassionate style of Moses, Aaron, or Miriam, and the midwives who risked their own freedom by breaking the law and saving the condemned babies.
ASSESSING YOUR OWN SEDER HISTORY
In your own life thus far, have you ever been to a Passover Seder that truly inspired you and opened up your heart for doing good in the world? Have you ever heard the ancient story of personal and group liberation told in a way that empowered you to break out of some old ruts?
I remember as a child enjoying the foods at my beloved grandpa's Seder each year. It was wonderful to see how passionately he conducted the Seder and I especially loved the Hillel sandwich that combines matzoh, horseradish, chopped walnuts, apples and wine to remind us of the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. Plus the half moon shaped jelly desserts in bright colors from Manischewitz that my sister and I split equally--she liked the yellow and green ones, I liked the orange and red ones.
I didn't fully realize, though, until age 16 that my beloved Zayde's Seder, conducted entirely by my very traditional grandpa from the old country for almost 5 hours with no questions allowed, was missing something. Only at age 16 did I find out from a close friend that the Seder was not intended to be a passive experience of listening to one's grandpa explain everything in a language no one at the table could understand. Rather, it's about asking questions, discussing various viewpoints, and honoring that each person has a unique and different way of understanding the struggle for freedom and integrity.
Ever since age 16, I've made sure each year to attend at least one creative Seder during the week of Passover meals to explore different ways of understanding God's assistance and the human search for the courage to break out of our enslavements. Some of these creative Seders were focused on rethinking gender roles and equal rights for women. Other Seders were focused on liberation and equal rights for African-Americans. One year I attended a Seder where there were Israelis, Palestinians, hawks, and doves praying together for peace and mutual respect. Another Seder was about the enslavements of our addictions and self-damaging habits with discussions of the crucial steps toward genuine freedom.
A UNIQUE GATHERING ON APRIL 3RD
This year there will be an original, creative and inspiring Seder at Ahavat Torah Congregation in Brentwood. The ancient story of moving out of narrowness and enslavements will be told with modern applications to our personal lives and our world today. There will be participation from each person in the room as well as Rabbi Miriam Hamrell of Ahavat Torah Congregation, Reverend Doctor Janet Bregar of Village Lutheran Church, and Karima Kylberg of Mussallah Tauhid.
The 2010 Ahavat Torah Seder is entitled "Three Communities Celebrate Their Common Roots with a Community Passover Seder" and all are welcome to attend even if this is your very first Seder, or even if you are a veteran at eating more matzah and haroseth during Passover than your gastro-enterologist thinks you should.
The festive meal and inspiring discussion will take place immediately after Shabbat/Sabbath services on Saturday, April 3rd in the social hall at 343 Church Lane in Brentwood (1 block west of the 405 Freeway, 2 blocks west of Sepulveda, between Sunset and Montana) starting at around 12:15 p.m. (You are also invited to be part of the passionate singing, meditations, and Torah reading at the Shabbat services which begin at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary) .
A CUSTOM-MADE HAGGADAH
Many years ago when Arlene and Sid Rosenblatt were members of Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood, they enjoyed the shortened and easy-to-understand Haggadah (mostly in English) put together by Rabbi James Kaufman. Then for several years, Arlene and her daughter Julie did what many modern Jews do--they cut, pasted, and photocopied some additional spiritual teachings, diverse interpretations, and inspiring questions for experiencing the Seder on deeper levels each year with their family and friends.
Now in 2010, Arlene and Sid have made copies of these accessible customized Haggadot so that each participant on April 3rd can have a meaningful connection to the ancient story and its current applications in our own lives and communities. You will discover not only the traditional order of the Seder but also some heart-opening and thought-provoking modern interpretations that will make the holiday come alive for you and your loved ones.
No one knows exactly what will happen at this year's Seder because it all depends on each one of us showing up with our questions, our concerns, and our individual holy struggles on how to find positive ways to break out of enslavements and move successfully toward genuine freedom and integrity. Quite possibly something you say to the entire group or just to one person with whom you will be "breaking matzah" will create ripples of awareness and understanding that might last for a lifetime. Please know that this is a gathering where all points of view are treated with respect and that your own particular journey is welcome and honored at this unique gathering. We hope that this Passover will be a joyous time for meeting one another in a common search for personal growth and peace among all peoples.
For more information about Ahavat Torah Congregation, please visit the website at http://www.ahavattorahcongregation.org/.
Because of the dietary restrictions associated with Passover, you are requested to sign-up ahead of time if you are interested in bringing one of the potluck dishes. For a list of foods that will be part of the festive meal, please see the Ahavat Torah weekly newsletter. To sign-up for bringing a specific food item, or to simply RSVP that you will be a part of the celebration of Passover, contact Pattye by March 30th at 310 391-4301 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.