Monday, April 17, 2017

A Time of Remembering

And a stranger shalt thou not oppress; for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 23:9)

It is that time of year when we speak of freedom, the time of remembering.  Last week we attended two Passover Seders, each different in flavor, but embedded in each was the idea of remembering our experience and history, and applying that awareness to others. In both, our focus was on the immigrant and the refugee. I suspect that was true of many such gatherings. 

This feels especially meaningful in today’s political environment where some too readily see strangers rather than our shared humanity. I am glad to be a part of a tradition which instead reaches out and does so with a certain wisdom.  I believe that we respond from the personal and that it is out of our personal experience that we understand that of someone else. Passover reminds me that this belief has a long tradition.

The first Seder we attended came with assignments. We were to bring something that signified freedom to us.  My husband brought a newspaper and spoke to the need to preserve freedom of the press and the important role it plays in a free society. I brought one of the many protest signs that populate the trunk of our car these days, sharing the importance of our freedom to protest injustice. It is one of the things that gives me a sense of solidarity with others in this time of uncertainty.

 Our hostess noted that last year she had spoken of optimism. This year the emphasis has shifted to hope, a subtle but telling difference. "What gives you hope?" she asked. Many spoke of the next generation as a source of hope.  I understand and often agree with that sentiment, but sometimes it doesn't seem to go far enough, as if we put it solely on the shoulders of the next generation. It makes me want to say, "Hey, I'm still here!" as I wave my hand in the air. It doesn’t absolve each of us, regardless of age, from opposing oppression and speaking to the values we share. In some odd way, the anger I feel gives me hope.  I am stirred to act because my sense of what is right and fair is offended. I look around and am heartened to see that I am not the only one who feels that way.

And speaking of generations to come...Small plastic green frogs populated our table, 
evoking the plague of frogs upon the Egyptians. The youngest child at the table was quite fascinated with them and periodically popped up with a frog mask to declare that he too was a frog.  There is something quite heart-warming about a child at a Seder. It adds some leavening, even without yeast. The four questions recited by a child are a reminder of that future yet to come.

We embraced some theater, imagining what our life would have been like as a slave, speaking in the first person of our daily life. Our hostess questioned us about our experience and what it felt like. It was hard for some to speak in first person, still looking at the experience from the outside. When my friend Dora spoke, we all listened closely, knowing that she spoke from her experience as a survivor of the Holocaust.  Of all at the table, she had the clearest sense of what it meant to have no control over one's life and no sense of what future, if any, awaited. She inhabited the part, bringing a sense of reality into the room. It was not just in Egypt that we were slaves.

Usually the Seder is a celebration of Spring, a time of new beginnings that we celebrate with poetry. This one was a bit unusual as we watched the snow fall, coating the branches of trees with a wet heavy snow and creating rutted paths of slush, reminding us that winter had not yet fully departed.

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