Jewish Holidays and Practices
A Guide for Newcomers
Click here for more »
Basic Holiday Info
Click here for more »
Think Pieces and Sermons
Click here for more »
As Passoverâ€™s midpoint approaches, the holidayâ€™s signature crunchy side, main, and everything-else dish may already be wearing out its welcome at some of our tables. So I invite those of us who might be counting the days until matzah reclaims its place in gastronomic memory to focus on the transformative potential of matzah and other Passover foods. Here at JOI, we use Passover as a time to help Jewish communities throughout North America provide a portal of entry to Jewish life for those who are not connected to their local Jewish community. Specifically, JOI does this through its Passover in the Matzah Aisle program which trains Jewish communal professionals and volunteers to bring a taste of local Jewish life to local grocery stores to meet people where they are. In this setting, a literal taste of traditional Passover foods becomes the first step towards Jewish connection. The following story on the transformative potential of the traditional Passover foods (the macaroon in this case) comes from Isabel Balotin. As the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville’s Shalom Jacksonville Coordinator, Isabel brings JOIâ€™s Public Space Judaism model to her programming throughout the year.
“Ella Nussbaum* never misses an opportunity to help someone. As one of Shalom Jacksonville volunteers for our Passover in the Matzah Aisle SM program at Winn-Dixie, Ella struck up a conversation with a young man as he approached our table to sample a macaroon. In a most friendly way, she asked him if he had a place to go for seder. He responded that he was Jewish but his wife wasnâ€™t Jewish and they would be in Paris during the holiday. (more…)
Passover begins tonight at sunset. Passover is among the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays in North America, and the vast majority of those in the Jewish community will attend a seder, or ritual meal, some time during the holiday. However, Jews are not alone in celebrating Passover anymore. Because of intermarriage and conversion, because of the entry of Judaism into the marketplace of American ideas, and because we live our lives well-integrated with our neighbors, there are many people of other backgrounds who will be attending, and even planning, Passover seders this year.
The holiday of Passover is about communal memory. In the Bible, the Israelites are instructed to remember that God brought them out of Egypt. Part of this â€śrememberingâ€ť is through the way in which Passover and seder rituals are handed down through families from generation to generation. A familyâ€™s seder may feature different songs, different haggadot (the written guide to the seder), and a different traditional menu, but they will share the experience nonetheless.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, JOIâ€™s executive director, wrote several beautiful pieces for the spring issue of The Orchard, a publication of the Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet. The first piece explains why weekly Torah readings are suspended for Passover and why the biblical Song of Songs is read and studied:
The inclusion of the Song of Songs allows us to participate in both the collective experience of the journey, while understanding that our collective experience reflects the sum total of all of our individual journeys. While the people traveled together in the desert, few of our personal journeys follow the same paths. But the Passover experience teaches us that there is room for all of our individual journeys. That is part of the inclusive nature of the Passover experience. And perhaps why so many among the Jewish community-and beyond-see the universal message of Passover as something that speaks to them.
The second piece is entitled, Welcoming the Stranger in our Midst. He reminds us that Jewish sacred tradition directs us to welcome â€śstrangersâ€ť in our midst because we understand what it was like to be strangers when we were scattered to all the nations of the world. That, to us, is one of the most important messages in the Passover holiday.
Itâ€™s that wonderful time of year again. Spring is in the air (or getting there!). Many of us feel blessed to have family and friends to gather around the Passover Seder table. But what about those who might also benefit from being around the table? What can we do to make sure they have the opportunity to participate in the Passover experience?
The Big Tent Judaism Coalition has created a special reading (as a downloadable PDF) to recite during the Seder ritual when the door is open for Elijah:
We open our door to receive the herald of a new age. But we don’t just open the door for Elijah. We open it so that all who are hungry may come and eat, all who seek connection to a meaningful heritage may come and learn, and all our friends and family may find welcoming hearts and open arms in our holiday celebration.
The Big Tent Judaism Coalition is a movement of over 450 Jewish communal organizations across institutional and denominational lines who seek a more inclusive and welcoming Jewish community. Learn more here.
In keeping with that theme, Birthright Israel NEXT invited selected Jewish organizations to offer a â€śfifth questionâ€ť to add to the Seder â€“ one that will inspire us to make Passover meaningful for todayâ€™s Jewish world. JOIâ€™s fifth question is:
On this night we celebrate proud Jewish traditions with friends and family, but who else in our lives might find meaning and value in our Passover Seder that we havenâ€™t yet invited to join us?
Click here to read more about why we feel that question is worth asking.
As we celebrate this year, be mindful of the inclusive nature of the Passover experience. Welcome the stranger and rejoice together in the beauty of the holiday. Best wishes for a meaningful Passover!