09 April 2007

Seder Searches

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

I go through this every year: a search for meaning in the celebration of Passover. The holiday never seems to lose its power to engage my mind and my emotions – which is as it should be for a holiday about freedom and renewal of both a spiritual and physical kind. Where others find value in following familial traditions, this has never been enough for me. The brilliant thing about Passover is that it has its tradition built in – the defined order of the Seder meal, the liturgical core of the Haggadah – which, in turn, beckons to have additional layers of experience built onto and around that core. From the people involved to the food and organization of the Seder meal, Passover offers a rare religious opportunity: to experiment and to learn experientially by changing the surface-level lenses through which we connect to the real traditions, the (re)telling of the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.


An interesting discussion came up at our first Seder this year, apropos this line from the Haggadah: “In every generation there have been those who have stood against us [Jews] to wipe us out.” The question was brought forward about whether we (Jews) have, in fact, ever known any period in which this hasn’t happened. Several people seemed to be arguing that there has been an intrinsic anti-Semitism in Europe – in France, or in Germany – and that Jews have deluded themselves into a false sense of social connectedness and security. Indeed, someone said, it was this misplaced trust in their own German-ness that lead the Jews of Germany to underestimate Nazi anti-Semitism.

Generally speaking, I find the relentless focus on anti-Semitism within contemporary (American) Jewish culture to be terribly misguided, another manifestation of The Holocaust Industry. This culture of death and fear reinforces the negative aspects of Judaism; it may attract those need such sad emotional attachments, but it also antagonizes and drives away those who might, under a more positive rubric, become more engaged with Jewish life. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League raise funds quite successfully by playing on fears of anti-Semitism – however, by placing fear in over-drive they also assure the perpetuation of anti-Semitism through an endless series of over-reactions about any perceived slight to the Jewish community they claim to represent.

At Seder, the primary questioner seemed to be suggesting that the only way in which Jews can avoid their fate – the fate that “In every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out” – is to abandon Judaism. Of course, Jews who have left Judaism have not typically received better treatment or much refuge: for the true anti-Semite, non-observance of Jewish law or custom is somewhat beside the point, as are the blond hair and blue eyes that many Jews also have. (For that matter, the history of anti-Semitism in Europe (or elsewhere) is also no argument for embracing Judaism either: ours is a religion of life, which remembers and commemorates death but does not worship it.)

Expressing frustration, and anger, at the way that Jews have been treated makes sense, as does working to combat anti-Semitism and the broader set of social hatreds that are often connected to it. However, we cannot let these externalities define us, positively or negatively. To be Jewish – or not be Jewish – because someone(s) else thinks it is a good or bad idea, because some society didn’t accept us at one point or, now, because they do, these are not reasons to respond differently to Judaism. Nor is this “blaming the victim.” Rather, it is rejecting a philosophy that glorifies victim-hood, and abuses our victims for what are, ultimately, malicious and mock-rejuvenating purposes.


Another quote from the Haggadah goes like this: “In every generation, each person must view himself or herself as having personally gone out of Egypt.” This is not a command to remember and exult in Jewish suffering, but a command to remember the freedom the Israelites received from slavery, a freedom that is symbolic of the desires of humanity writ large. It is also a reminder of the teaching that rests at the heart of the Seder, and indeed we are commanded to help the next generation understand the holiday and its meaning. More than anything else, a failure to teach, and to learn, will have meant a failure to celebrate.

Perhaps that is why I find myself so restless each holiday. Traditions are wonderful and can be emotionally satisfying, but can also lead to a deadening of the senses needed for constant learning. The Haggadah prompts us to ask four questions, but nowhere does it say that there are only four questions, or four answers to go with them. We must work to keep discovering new questions, new answers, and even new traditions.


Blogger Ancient Clown said...


First and foremost, at this time of year I like to remind myself...Jesus was Jewish, not Christian.
He wasn't here to start a new political party, create a new religion, or to secure a holiday honouring His name. He did however, fulfill ALL of prophecy as He was supposed to, and was then, unrighteously I might add, tried against Jewish LAW itself, BOTH at night and without FULL council by corrupt men who feared the TRUTH.
Secondly, I like to remind myself of the hard-hearted nature of the Pharoh that led to the death of his own son...because he refused to LISTEN to GOD.
Thirdly, I like to remind myself of the weak-faithed, hard-hearted Jewish people who had just been rescued from slavery, led through the open waters of the Red Sea and shortly thereafter while Moses was in the mountains conversing with GOD...those same people are down below making an IDOL...a GOLDEN CALF to worship.
It is then I realize WHY the Jewish people were chosen from all the races of GOD's children on the face of the Earth to be made an example of.
It is also then I wonder if the Jewish people themselves will ever get over their own arrogance in calling themselves 'the chosen people' enough to realize why.
It was because they DIDN'T and DON'T "listen".
Every prophet they ever had sent to them has said the exact same thing.
Jesus included.
Have I said any different than they?
your humble servant,
ancient clown

12:12 PM  

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