Passover, of course, is a celebration of a time when G-d spared His people from oppression, and freed them from slavery in the land of Egypt. I won't preach; I think everyone pretty much gets the gist of what Passover is all about. Suffice to say that it basically follows the standard boilerplate of every Jewish holiday, "They persecuted us. We won. Let's eat!"
Admittedly, I have several favorites among the holidays, each for different reasons. I enjoy Thanksgiving and Independence Day, because I am patriotic. I like Hanukkah a lot because, in addition to being Jewish, I'm also American, so I enjoy buying gifts for people that they do not need, with money that I do not have, and ending up with bills that I cannot pay. I also love Yom Kippur; for all of it's fasting and rigid dourness, it is by far one of the most emotionally and spiritually fulfilling holidays of the year for me.
Passover, however, holds a special place in my heart because of the sense of heritage it brings with it. While the Sabbath is about resting and finding peace within our household, and Yom Kippur is arguably about atonement for our individual sins, Passover is all about connecting with generations past and future. No other holiday makes me feel that my life is tied to the lives of my ancestors the way Passover can. And the Passover Seder is the single most historically significant event in my yearly Jewish life.
Because I am a Reform Jew, as opposed to Conservative or Orthodox, there are many traditional Jewish practices that I do not observe. For example, I do not wear a tallit or a yarmulke every day. I also do not keep kosher, do not strictly observe the Sabbath, and I have not yet totally disappointed my mother. But none of these make me feel less Jewish.
OK...some of them do, but that just keeps the guilt meter high, which is essential to a proper Jewish existence.
Sitting around a table at a Seder, though, is when I fully celebrate the joy of my Judaism.
And here is the most significant thing about the Seder, in my opinion: It is time spent with the entire Jewish family. At Passover, we don't just sit down with our mothers and fathers, or even first or second cousins. We gather in groups - sometimes large groups - of people to whom our bloodlines go back hundreds or thousands of years. These are people that we may not necessarily think of as "relatives" the rest of the year, but at Passover we recognize and celebrate that ancient familial connection that hearkens back to the days that we read about in the Torah all year long.
Most nights, we don't even go to a temple - we invite these people into our homes! They sit at our tables, eat from our grandparents' bowls. They pass us their wine, and tell us of their own parents, their children and their childhood memories. Perhaps more so than at any other time throughout the year, we are truly connected to one another through the foods, songs, and stories of those who came before us.
And, each year, as new people move into and out of our lives, the dynamic of the Seder changes. At it's core, it's still the quintessential traditional experience, but the nuances brought by each person at the table make every one unique; soothing and familiar, yet fun and fresh.
And this meal is ALL about the kids. Many of us say Sabbath prayers and light Hanukkah candles, but most families do not go through entire services, from start to finish, in the home - except for the Seder. And the younglings aren't just included in some token passage, or with a shiny gift or candle; the four questions read by our children at a Seder are perhaps the very essence of how all of Judaism thrives. Read by some of the youngest people at the table, these simple inquiries represent the sense of wonder, awe, and discovery that brings all Jews to G-d in their own way, in their own time.
Tonight, my three ladies and I will join our extended family here in Columbus for what promises to be a superb Seder. No, not all of my family will be there. Heck, not even all of my Columbus family, or all of my Jewish family. But these are people I love, people I mostly even like, and people with whom I wish I could break bread (leavened or otherwise) more often. We don't make time to see each other as often as we should throughout the year, but that's part of what makes a Seder different from all other nights. I am thankful for all of them, and those who came before them.
In this Passover season, my wish for all you is the closeness of loved ones, the warmth of belonging, and the great joy that I am feeling during one of my very favorite holidays. Very best to you, from me and my family.