by Ron Halber
Special to WJW
Attending Passover seder remains one of the most observed rituals among the Jewish people. The Passover table for many is an annual reunion, allowing for families too often separated by long distances to reconnect in person against the backdrop of a holiday whose focus is the most basic of human desires - freedom.
Freedom, this most meaningful of words, has become too cheaply used. How often do children try to excuse their behavior by stating "well, it's a free country" or do people try to minimize violence by repeating the saying "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter"? Passover's definition of freedom, the end of Jewish enslavement in Egypt, provides a true moral baseline for this overused word.
For me, the responsibility of retelling the story of Passover each year is emblematic of the strengths of the Jewish people: ensuring generational memory and observance; respect for tradition; and reminding ourselves of the importance of resilience and optimism.
In the Haggadah, the retelling of the Passover story reminds us to remain resolved to what is right so one can overcome challenges. Today that challenge is clearly Iran, whose leaders talk openly about using nuclear weapons against Israel. Or is it Hamas and Hezbollah, or the rise of European anti-Semitism, most recently and horrifically displayed by the murders in France? So how can one fully celebrate all the joys of Passover when there are threats to the Jewish people? Passover's lessons provide the answer. It is precisely because we live in an unsettled world that we need traditions such as Passover that provide reaffirmation of spirit, unity, hope and resilience.
Almost all of the world's Jews today live in Israel, the United States or in other Western nations, free to express their opinions and faith openly, and to pursue their personal and professional ambitions and dreams. Passover reminds us to yearn for a better tomorrow. In response to questions of how people could honor the lives of Rabbi Jonathan Sander and the two boys, Aryeh and Gavriel, killed in France recently, the widow Eva Sandler stated "The holiday of Passover is approaching. Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at a seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom." She offers us a way to honor their memory and our faith by celebrating the freedom we have.
Utilize your freedom throughout the year - to pursue economic or social justice or help strengthen the U.S. /Israel relationship as a free citizen in a free nation. Regardless of language, the Haggadah or the theme of your seder, the core message remains unalterable and timeless: freedom - the benefits it offers and the hope it brings.
How blessed we are to live in a world with a free, proud Jewish nation. How fortunate we are to live in America, free to make our own choice to live proudly as Jewish Americans. Chag Sameach.
Ron Halber is executive director of the Washington Jewish Community Relations Council.