Stories of the season bring harmony, healing

by Cantor Paul Buch

Over the years my family and I have lived in Claremont, I have participated in dozens of Passover Seders in our community, both “Model Seders” designed to educate Jews and non-Jews alike about this annual spring festival, and more formal events at our synagogue or private homes. 

If you don’t quite know what a “Seder (say-der)” is, the simplest way I can define this essential ritual of Judaism is through explaining that the Hebrew word “Seder” means “order” and that a Passover Seder is a programed meal that uses a specific order of rituals to help tell the story of the ancient Israelites’ transition from slavery in Egypt to a free people led by God and Moses towards the promised land of Canaan.

Our guidebook on this journey of memory is known as the “Haggadah,” which literally means “the telling.”?Throughout the centuries, there have been thousands of versions and, while these various editions may have reflected the customs of a particular community or sought to enhance the text’s readability or appearance, the text itself largely remained unchanged for over a millennium. 

That was until the later part of the 20th century when “alternative” versions began to appear that, while true in general to the traditional structure and content of the original, began to express themselves quite individually. These alternative versions sometimes take a “social action” approach to the holiday that equates the liberation of the ancient Israelites with both personal and communal liberation in our time. Other times, they simply seek to help make the Passover story more relevant and accessible to a modern world. 

Just check Amazon and you’ll find more than 100 pages of options, everything from “A Different Night” (one of my favorites) to “The Zombie Haggadah,” which I’ve yet to acquire.

But inherent in a good number of these innovative versions is the idea that our historical Jewish liberation story has much broader appeal and relevance. That’s something that has been clear to me ever since I started leading Seders as a teen. It’s the prime reason I find “interfaith” Seders so meaningful and personally rewarding:?Jewish or not, nearly everyone has a freedom or liberation story to tell. As we share these stories, we can come to know and understand each other on a much deeper and more meaningful level.

But, whether it is at a Passover Seder, an Easter dinner or just sharing a casual meal with a neighbor you’ve never gotten to know, it’s how we share those stories that is the key.

As my teacher, Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, put it recently, “through the retelling of the tale and through learning to speak properly, directly and with self-understanding while listening to the angst of the other, we can potentially create great healing and harmony and bring the redemption, the liberation, that Passover prophecies.”

May we all have an opportunity this year to experience just such freedom during this traditional season of renewal and rebirth.



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