Category Archives: Pesach

Passover and Good Friday: Together Like Never Before

The most memorable aspect of my Pesach this year? A combination Passover – Good Friday service JRC held together with the wonderful folks at Lake Street Church of Evanston.

The whole thing was hatched somewhat by chance. A month or so ago I was having lunch with my good friend Reverend Bob Thompson of Lake St. Church (appropriately enough at Evanston’s Blind Faith Cafe) and our conversation turned to our respective upcoming rites of spring. Bob mentioned to my surprise that he hadn’t celebrated Good Friday at Lake St. in quite some time – mainly because he simply couldn’t abide by blood atonement theology – the notion that God would somehow require the bloodshed of one man to atone for all of the sins of the rest of the world.

For my part, I mentioned that Good Friday had not generally been so “good” to the Jews throughout history, since this was invariably the time in which the worst pogroms were perpetrated against European Jewish communities. As a result, for much of Jewish history Passover was a secret ritual: observed in fear and in private. Given our complicated mutual history, we both agreed that it would be enormously powerful to celebrate Passover and Good Friday together in a spirit of healing and hope.

So that is exactly what we did this last Friday. While Bob and I weren’t at all sure if this service would fly, it actually suceeded beyond our highest expectations. Hundreds of JRC and Lake St. members filled the sanctuary at Lake St. church. Together we celebrated with a service that mixed Hebrew and English, Jewish songs, Christian hymns and prayers for healing. We ended with a rousing “Down By The Riverside.” Afterwards, countless participants – both Jewish and Christian – told us that the service was an immensely moving and healing experience for them.

During the service, Bob and I had a conversation in which we both mused about what our respective holidays might look like if we recast them in the spirit of healing and hope. Bob began by saying the first thing Christians needed to do when celebrating Good Friday was to apologize to the Jewish community for the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism. He then went on to explore how Christians might recast the meaning of the crucifixion itself. Here’s what he had to say:

Every Good Friday well meaning folk gather to listen to priests and ministers talk about how Jesus was crucified, the “lamb of God,” to take away the sins of the world. In other words, Jesus died a sacrificial death to satisfy the God who demands retribution – the God who requires the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Thankfully these days there’s an emergent form of Christianity – one that does not buy this “blood atonement theory” – and it is a theory. Today, more and more Christians are saying they do not believe that God requires the shedding of blood… The point is, violence is not a solution – it’s always a problem. We have to get to see that violence never purifies – it always defiles. In every form it is defiling.

That’s why if Jesus was standing here today, I believe he’d say, “don’t call me the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He might say rather something more like “I am a window to divinity and a mirror of humanity. What I came to do is to show you what it means to be open to the Divine and to reflect the best of who we are as human beings. And everybody can reflect this and be this window if only we have the spiritual vision to see clearly enough.”

In other words, Jesus, I believe, would not say that he suffered to keep us from suffering – he suffered because to be human is to suffer. Jesus hangs there because life is always hanging in the balance for all of us all of the time.

I was so taken by his willingness to take on the violence inherent in the crucifixion image – and I responded in kind with my remarks:

There’s no getting around it: to observe the Seder, you need to tell a story of oppression and violence. And you cannot get to what is for Christians resurrection and what is for Jews the Exodus from Egypt without going through that moment of violence…

I will also say I share with you, Bob, completely, that I do not view violence in any way as redemptive. I reject that categorically. I think we all have to. But we still have to struggle with the way violence affects us and what it does to us and what it does to our souls. We can’t ignore it. Even if we disavow it, we can’t ignore it.

As a Jew… I fear the violence that is embodied by the Seder and that has been waged against the Jewish people for centuries will turn us into a bitter people. That it will only cause us to have a sense of entitlement which means we use our pain as a weapon against the outside world because nothing we do to anyone else can be nearly as horrible as what’s been done to us. Or it will cause us to build bigger walls between us and the rest of the world and to instill a Jewish identity that basically says nothing more than “all the world really wants us dead, and that’s what it means to be a Jew. And we have to be forever vigilant because we live in a world that hates Jews.”

And while I’m not unmindful of this history and I do think we need to retell this history because those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it…I also think we need to look seriously at what this legacy of violence and oppression does to us and what we do with it.

And for me that means bearing witness to oppression in the world. If there is any sliver of redemption in violence, it means that it can open the door to empathy – and I would suggest that this idea comes from a very deep place in Biblical tradition – in the Torah.

The commandment commanded more times than any other in the Torah is some version of “Do not oppress the stranger because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” To me what that says is “you don’t take your pain and use it as a weapon against the outside world. You take your pain and use it as a tool for empathy with the outside world – and to bear witness against oppression no matter where it is fomented, whether it is in our community or it’s in any community.

We cannot hold on to our pain as uniquely ours, and I want to come back to something you said earlier, Bob: “We’re all in this together. It’s not some of us – it’s all of us. And violence against one people is violence against all.”

You can read some of Bob’s thoughts about our service on a piece he’s just written for Examiner.com You can also click below to hear an audio of the entire service. (The service itself begins at the 10:00 point).

Next Year in a Jerusalem for All its Citizens

Jewish settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem (photo from Activestills)

The words “Next Year in Jerusalem”  seriously stuck in my throat at seder this year.

I know that these words are largely a spiritual metaphor.  I know that for centuries of Jewish history these words referred to a messianic vision of the future and not literal immigration. Still, given the political realities of the day, it’s just so very to difficult to separate spiritual metaphor from literal facts on the ground.

It was enormously difficult for me to proclaim “Next Year in  Jerusalem” together with Jews the world over knowing that right now in Yerushalayim Shel Mata (“earthly Jerusalem”), non-Jewish residents are being evicted from their homes and the construction of Jewish residences are increasing with utter impunity. By any other name this would be called “ethnic cleansing,” and I have no trouble saying so.

Many will claim that Jews have a right to build houses anywhere that they please. That is not the issue. This issue, of course, is that Palestinians in Israel do not. Others will say that the government is only building in parts of Jerusalem that “everyone knows” will be always be part of Israel anyway.  This is, in fact, exactly what Netanyahu claimed in his address at the recent AIPAC Policy Conference:

Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

This claim is hogwash. If you would like to know why, please read this article by Danny Seidemann and Lara Friedman, who understand the recent history and politics of Jerusalem better than just about anyone:

What Netanyahu really means is that East Jerusalem land falls into two categories: areas that “everybody knows” Israel will keep and where it can therefore act with impunity, and areas that Israel hopes it can keep, by dint of changing so many facts on the ground before a peace agreement is reached that they move into the first category.

It is an approach that can be summed up as: “what’s mine is mine, and what you think is yours will hopefully be mine, too.” It discloses with stark clarity the underlying principle of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem policies: the status of Jerusalem and its borders will be determined by Israeli deeds rather than by negotiations. More bluntly, who needs agreement with Palestinians or recognition of the international community when “everybody knows”?

And it is an approach that we see today on the ground, where Israel is doing its best — through construction, demolitions, changes in the public domain — to transform areas of East Jerusalem that have always been overwhelmingly Palestinian into areas that everybody will soon recognize as Israeli, now and forever. This is happening in the area surrounding the Old City, in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods like Ras al Amud and Jebel Mukabber, and it is now starting to target areas like Shuafat and Beit Hanina.

The notion that a peace process can survive such an Israeli approach in Jerusalem is not rational.  The notion that Israel can be taken seriously as a peace partner while acting this way is farcical.  And the notion that the United States can be a credible steward of peace efforts while tolerating such behavior is laughable.

Next year in a Jerusalem for all of its citizens…

Passover Supplements Galore!

The Passover 2010 seder supplements are arriving fast and furious. In my last post I shared my JVP supplement – here are a few more you can download and use to spice up your seder meal:

– The “Moral Voices” initiative of Penn Hillel has published “From Chains to Change” – a supplement that connects the lessons of Pesach to the contemporary scourge of human trafficking;

– Workingman’s Circle’s “10 Modern Plagues” demonstrates how our contemporary bounty is diminished by the suffering of others;

– J Street’s supplement asks “Four More Questions” about the prospects for the peace process in the coming year;

Tikkun Magazine’s supplement, thoughtful as ever, is so verbose that it could be its own haggadah…

The new supplement created by American Jewish World Service focuses on disaster relief:  “Dayenu: Supporting the Long Journey from Disaster to Recovery;”

– Jewish Funds for Justice highlights immigration reform with “For We Were Strangers;”

A print-out placemat from Mazon asks a 5th question: “Why On This Night are Millions of People Going Hungry?”

A zissen Pesach – all the best for a sweet and liberating Passover…

A Must-Have Pesach Mix Tape

You need to play this at your seder.

The Idelsohn Society has released a breathtaking mix tape for Pesach, weaving together such musical liberation classics as The Kiddush (Richard Tucker), The Four Questions (Socalled), Passover Time on the Range (Moe Jaffe & Henry Tobias), Passover (Joy Division), On My Way To Canaan’s Land (The Carter Family), Freedom (Charles Mingus), I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, (Nina Simone), Where Can I Go? (Ray Charles), I’m Set Free (The Velvet Underground). Defintely something for everyone.

All who are hungry, give a listen!

(H/T to Josh Karsh for discovering this gem).

Passover Awakening

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Some final Pesach thoughts: a pic, above, from my front garden and a Passover reading from Kol Haneshamah, the Reconstructionist siddur:

Once we were slaves; now we are free.

On this festival of freedom, we celebrate liberation’s redemptive power:

– the awakening of the earth after winter’s dormancy and the first fragile shoots of green thrusting forth from the cold prison of the ground

– the Hebrew’s hearts awakening that led to marching out of slavery’s shackles, and the stirrings of the human heart when the bells of freedom ring

– the awakening of my own heart to how I can transform myself and my world, and the looking beyond toward a vision we can share –

of liberation, of redemption, of peace.

(David A. Teutsch)

The Sunshine of Your Love…

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Celebrated a sublime Birkat Hachamah this morning at JRC. Began with meditation as the sun rose through the east window-wall of our sanctuary, then followed with yoga sun salutations – both led with profound depth of spirit by congregational member Carole Caplan. After this powerful prelude we participated in the Birkat Hachamah service itself (above).

As part of the liturgy, I added this verse from last Shabbat’s Haftarah:

For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. (Malachi 3:20)

We then listened to this commentary from the great Rabbi Milton Steinberg, z”l:

After a long illness I was permitted for the first time to step outdoors. And as I crossed the threshold, sunlight greeted me. So long as I live I shall never forget that moment. The sky overhead was very blue, very clear, and very, very high. A faint wind blew off from the western plains, cool and yet somehow tinged with warmth – like a dry chilled wine. And everywhere in the firmament above me, in the great vault between earth and sky, on the pavements, the buildings – the golden glow of sunlight. It touched me, too, with friendship, with warmth, with blessing. And as I basked in its glory there ran through my mind those wonderful words of the prophet Malachi: “For you who revere My name a sun of righteousness will rise with healing on its wings.”

And I remembered how often I had been indifferent to the sunlight, how often, preoccupied with petty and sometimes mean concerns, I had disregarded it. And I said to myself, How precious is the sunlight, but alas, how careless of it we are.

How precious indeed, especially upon a day such as this; a day in which, as Jewish tradition would have it, the sun returns on its twenty-eight year cycle to the place it originally occupied at the time of it creation.

This Pesach may we all bask in the sunlight of God’s liberation…

PS: It was a briliant and clear morning in the Chicago area (see pic below)!

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Tam Tam Conspiracy Deepens

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Loyal readers of this blog will doubtless remember my report last Pesach on the now infamous “Tam Tam crisis.” Though this year we’ve been assured by Manichewitz that there will be more than enough Tam Tams to go around, I confess I was alarmed when I saw this strange new packaging that now reads: “Passover Crackers.”  Even more cryptically, the crackers are described as “Lightly Salted Tam Tams.”

Passover CRACKERS?!! Tam Tams are now a mere qualifier to “Passover Crackers?”  What’s up with this?  Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think there’s something very wrong going on at Manichewitz. Until we receive some kind of explanation, I’d say it’s highly premature to declare an official end to the Tam Tam crisis.

(That’s my super sleuth dog Miles above, attempting to get to the bottom of this latest Pesach mystery…)

Immigration Reform by Pesach!

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Here’s an new Jewish community immigration initiative you need to know about: “Progress by Pesach.”

PBP has brought together an impressive coalition of diverse Jewish orgs to urge the Obama administration and Congress to make meaningful progress on compassionate immigration reform by April 2009.

There’s a variety of components to this campaign. Here’s the jist, from their sample letter to President Obama:

Our Jewish faith scripture tells us to “Welcome the Stranger” with love and compassion. However the singular focus on aggressive enforcement of outdated immigration laws creates a sense of fear and animosity between communities and the law enforcement that serves them. The policy of relying on raids and enforcement tactics as the sole means of controlling immigration has clearly failed.

The suffering caused by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in homes and workplaces underscores the problems with current U.S. immigration policies and the urgent need for reform. Please work to ensure our country sees progress in the direction of humanitarian immigration reform in time for Passover, in April 2009.

Check out the Progress by Pesach website for the specifics.