April 3, 2003
As a child, Passover seders in my family were rushed affairs more about the meal than the meaning of the holiday. Hungry children and adults quickly read through the haggadah.
Surreptitious bites of matzah were silently swallowed. And all the while the aromas from the kitchen tickled our noses into reading as fast as we possibly could.
If you had asked me what Passover was about, I could tell you of all the delicious foods that were served, but not why my family gathered together to endure this strange ritual each year. And the finale was the biggest mystery of all. "Next year in Jerusalem" was a meaningless phrase we all shouted with glee -- probably because we knew the night was ending.
As an adult I made a conscious effort to learn about my Jewish roots, which commence with the reason we commemorate the events of the very first Passover.
One of the purposes of the Passover seder is to teach our children the story of how the Jewish people came to be. Passover is a history lesson taught not by impersonal teachers in a sterile classroom, but by our families seated around the dining room table. When done correctly, the Passover seder should instill a sense of pride. Because with knowing who we are, we should feel proud to be Jews.
Passover commemorates the departure of the Jewish people from Egypt some 3,000 years ago and marks the birth of a nation. This is as much a celebration of our spiritual freedom as it is a jubilation of our physical liberation from slavery.
During our time in Egypt we were greatly afflicted. We were slaves of the lowest order. The men and women were separated so that no new Jews would be born. Yet, the women defied this pharoah's edict. They snuck into the fields where the men slaved away and had relations with their husbands. No matter how hard pharoah tried, Jewish babies continued to be born. The women recognized that the nation's existence was in danger and they took action to assure that not only would the nation continue to subsist, but it would grow and thrive as well.
We can easily draw a parallel to the Holocaust. Despite the attempts of Hitler to wipe out European Jewry, babies continued to be born in the camps, in the ghettos and in the forests.
One of the Passover lessons we need to teach our children is that the will of the Jewish people does not crush easily. We are a people to be reckoned with and we do have a place in this world. Just look at Israel today. Despite the constant threat of terrorist attacks, life goes on, babies are born.
This year, we mark the one-year anniversary of the Passover massacre at the beachside Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel. On the day we commemorate our roots and proclaim our physical and spiritual endurance, a terrorist walked into the dining room of the hotel and detonated an explosive device. Of the 250 people attending the seder, 29 were killed and 140 people were injured, 20 seriously. Victims ranged in age from 25 to 90, and Holocaust survivors were among them.
Yet, we continue to defy our enemies. In Egypt we slaughtered sheep, the animal most worshiped by the Egyptians. In essence, we threw their holy sheep in their faces. We defied Hitler by surviving. Today we defy the Arabs by our very existence.
The Passover seder is instrumental in strengthening our will and our continued defiance of our enemies. It is at the seder that our children learn who we are and where we came from. They hear the first instance of a nation's defiance and the miraculous way in which our nation was born. The seder you have today will shape the Jew your children will be tomorrow and will ultimately affect the future path of all Jews.
Passover is a yearly proclamation to the world, but more importantly, to ourselves, that the Jewish nation is alive and well and will continue to exist and thrive despite the best efforts of our enemies and detractors. Passover is our yearly reminder to ourselves that to be a Jew is something special to be cherished and protected, nurtured and prized, relevant and treasured.
And we finish each seder with the words "Next year in Jerusalem." Next year -- meaning we will be around next year, and we will continue to outlive our enemies, to defy all predictions of our demise.
Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.