Passover has two critical teachings. The first is that in every generation, l’dor vador, we retell the story. But it’s not just enough to recite the words—we need to help the listener understand, reinventing and reimagining the story of the Exodus for this generation in a way that resonates. you have to tell it effectively. Like any good story, it has to have drama and meaning, heroes and heroines. The Haggadah has it all: Who could argue that the story isn’t dramatic? It also has meaning—after all, our identity as a people grows out of this experience. Moses and Miriam also emerge as leaders for the ages.
The Passover seder is filled with symbols of both oppression and freedom that help us tell this story—for instance, the parsley connotes springtime, the egg reminds us of the possibility of rebirth, and the maror (bitter herbs) give us a literal taste of the bitterness of slavery.
The second lesson lies in the ultimate symbol of the Passover seder, the matza. Sometimes referred to as the Bread of Affliction, it is a sobering reminder of our experiences as slaves. As we hold up the matza we say, “This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.” (URJ Haggadah)
The Haggadah’s statement “This is the bread of affliction,” Ha Lahma Anya, contains one of the most significant lessons of the Passover story. In my own childhood, we had seders of thirty-five or more people, and yet my mother always found room for anyone who found themselves in need of a seder. Here at the DCJCC, Passover is not the only time we think about Ha Lahma Anya. There are hungry people in our community every day. The drama and the lessons of Passover remind us to reach out and help those whose basic needs aren’t being met on a daily basis.
My mother’s example helps me guide the mission of the Center, as we continue to go into our community and take notice and action on behalf of those in need. As you celebrate Passover, take a look around and reach a hand out to those in your community and beyond.
Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC