pronouns: they, them, their

Listening – A Passover Reflection

Jewish Holiday

Rev. Chani Getter

April 16, 2024

This year, as I get ready for Passover seder, I am noticing my own trepidation. How do we celebrate freedom when so many are not free? How do we step into liberation when so many have no homes, are living in fear for their lives, and are grieving loved ones murdered? 

Yes, I know… violence and war is not new and has been a part of our lives for generations. However, for me, part of this hardship is that at previous Seders when I would mention these horrors and add some symbols on the Seder plate to mark it, people at my Seder mostly agreed or allowed it to roll off as they were not invested too deeply in those issues.  

This year, I have been wondering how to sit together with family and friends when our views on what is happening in the Middle East are so very different. 

I have been speaking to countless people, many are choosing to curate a seder where they have a select few with similar views to come together, others are opting to ask their guests not to discuss the violence, and some are in communities where most are on the same page and it is not even a worry for them. 

To help myself prepare for a ritual I deeply love, I have been attending two different classes and scanning many online handouts to get ready  for this extraordinary time. A moment in which ancient ritual and new innovation come together, and we co-create sacredness in our home and hearts. Passover is one of the few Jewish holidays where the ritual happens in the home as opposed to the synagogue. 

One class that I am taking is given by Lab Shul, they invited us to bring four different questions to our seder. These classes are asking us to go deeper during this time, to sit with the questions as they arise and to fully grapple with them for ourselves and our guests. 

The other class is led by One Spirit. It is a class in the model of a “circle of trust” and asks us to focus on cultivating our inner capacity to live more authentic lives. It invites us to resist turning away from suffering and moving towards it with open hearts, while connecting to our own joy and delight in living. 

In one of the breakout rooms of the second class at Lab Shul, a ritual emerged from our breakout conversation for us to use. 

Bring a shell, a seashell, to the seder. The kind you put to your ear and listen for the sound of the ocean.

Why? What does a seashell have to do with Passover?

Passover seders are very tactile, we use our senses. We light candles. We drink four cups of wine or grape juice to represent the different words in exodus that point to our liberation. We eat different flavors and textures of food, from bitter herbs representing our affliction to delicious charoset that looks like mortar to remind us that the Israelites had to create the mortar they used from scratch. We lean to one side, representing our freedom and carefreeness. 

We spill some of our wine or juice out, representing the plagues, noticing that we can’t celebrate in others pain, even if it might mean our salvation. We sing and dance. We hide the afikomen (a piece of matzah we eat at the end of the seder). We look for the afikomen. We get up and open the door towards the end of the seder, inviting mythical beings to bless us and visit us. It is not just one of prayer but rather a ritual where we use creativity and our senses. 

In April 2020, when our daughter was working in the hospital, during the height of the pandemic, we added a yahrzeit candle before the third cup of wine / grape juice we drink during the seder. And we recited the mourner’s Kaddish (prayer). She was seeing so much death, washing so many bodies every night as she did the night shift. So many people were dying, so many were grieving without being able to be in community. We paused. We noticed the moment we were in, and we innovated. We lit the yahrzeit candle, representing thousands of lives lost, and we recited the mourner’s Kaddish.

This year calls for innovation as well, and so, at our home, my family will add a shell to our seder plate.

Why This Ritual

This year, we want to listen more than speak. 

We honor that we are all holding truths, we are all in pain, we are all in our own way devastated by what is going on.

Part of the exodus miracle happened by the water, so we use a shell as a reminder of that long ago time, to recreate the miracle of liberation today. We come together to create peace, to stop the violence, to get out of our own head, our own trauma and pause long enough to listen to one another. We create a container to do so, at the very start of the seder.

Performing The Ritual

Invite yourself and your guests to take a breath. 

In silence, so that the person who is holding the seashell can hear the water, pass the shell one by one, taking time for each person to listen.

Notice that we can only hear the sound when we are quiet. We can only hear each other when we stop and listen. 

I invite you to use this ritual or to create your own. One that speaks to this moment in history. This sacred time in our calendar. 

Will you join me in creating new rituals for this year? What are the ones you are thinking of?

This year, Passover begins on the evening of Monday, April 22nd, 2024. 

May this time of year invite us all to listen more deeply to ourselves and those around us.

Happy Passover
A Koshern un Freilichen Pesach (Yiddish)
Chag Sameach (Hebrew)

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