Torah from Around the World #321

Drasha for Pesach

By: Rabbi Brad Bloom, Congregation Beth Yam , Hilton Head Island, SC, United States Congregation

A month ago I was sitting in an elementary school classroom on plastic chairs waiting for Friday night Shabbat Services to begin in the town of Gedera, which is south of Rechovot. This is an amazing congregation which has fought in court against the local government in order to win the right to hold their Shabbat services in a local elementary school. Most of the congregants are from secular homes and coming to religion was a big leap for them; it was a leap of faith that was gradual, but is now rooted in their souls. I listened to the music with the rabbis in our group and recognized many Shabbat melodies and songs that came from America, as well as songs from Israel by the great Naomi Shemer. I was touched, and felt a great admiration and respect for this community. Even though it was a small group, one could sense the spirituality and determination in their hearts to make this synagogue work for them and their children. After a wholly delightful service, our group of rabbis who were attending the convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) proceeded to the home of a congregant for a communal Shabbat meal.

Of course, we delighted in our Shabbat meal, and then we sat down and got to know the people outside of the liturgy and the service. We all just sat and talked, Jews from all over the world in Israel visiting with each other on a Shabbat. It was heavenly!

I am reminded of this event when I think about Pesach. It is called “Zman Cheruteinu, the time of our freedom.” I sensed in those hours at the Reform congregation in Gedera a microcosm of how we as Jews have come from near and far to unify at Passover time, most especially at our Seder table. No one is a stranger at a Seder table. No Jew should feel like a sojourner sitting at a Seder table. For when we read in the Haggadah, “My father was a wandering Aramean,” we remind ourselves how we have experienced what it means to make the journey, and so many in Israel have made that journey coming from other lands to find their permanent home in Eretz Yisrael. For me Passover means finding home.

I remember one couple that I had a chance to spend time with at the Shabbat dinner table, our conversation illustrates my point. The husband was telling me how he grew up in Bulgaria and studied to be an electrical engineer. He came to Israel on a special program to learn Hebrew, and committed himself to return to his native Bulgaria once the program was over to teach his Jewish community how to speak the holy language of our history. During his studies he met a lovely woman who had also traveled to Israel from the Former Soviet Union to learn Yiddish. They fell in love, got married, returned to Bulgaria and he fulfilled his commitment to teach Hebrew. Eventually they both made aliyah and settled in Gedera with their two children. They are now active members of their Reform congregation. They had a love of Jewish culture and the Jewish people, but it was the Reform Movement that brought them into the fold of Jewish religious and spiritual living inside Israel. It is because of the special dimension of spirit and the sense of a worshipping community, one that celebrates its life cycles and allows their children to ask questions from “Why is this night different from all other nights,” to, “What is the meaning of the laws and statutes that the Lord God gives us.” It is not about “you,” rather, Passover is all about “us.”

The Passover Haggadah gives us the once-a-year opportunity to ask questions and deepen our understanding of who we are as Jews wherever we live. Today secular Jews in Israel can expand their horizons by finding a new pathway that speaks to a need in our souls to go beyond the beauty of Jewish culture and deepen the wellsprings of learning and spiritual growth. There is much that we can do to share our perspective on the journey from secular to spiritual Jewish practice. Similarly, as I sat in that classroom, sang the songs and watched the faces of all the adults and children present, tears ran down my face. They had something precious, a beautiful kavanah that caught me off-guard. I knew then that our Israeli congregations also have what to teach us about the beauty of our heritage.

The Haggadah reminds us that we must not forget that each generation should live this Passover night as if we too went out of Egypt. True, we are all on the journey leaving the house of bondage, but where are we going? We say “L’Shana Habaah B’yerushalayim Habinuyah. Next Year in Jerusalem Rebuilt.” My recent journey to Israel and Shabbat in Gedera taught me that we all need to rebuild ourselves and our communities all over the world, including Israel, with a renewed vigor, and stretch ourselves to gain new insights about our own pathways in life. May this Pesach bring us closer to the communities we live in as well as to those Reform and Progressive congregations in Israel who will use the dew of spring to grow new plants that will make the souls of Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora sprout in joy and happiness.

Chag Kasher v’Sameah

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