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Books General CCAR Passover Pesach Technology

Post-Pesach Blog: Zero-Based Seder Leading with Sharing the Journey Haggadah

Passover might be over, but it’s not too late (or too early…) to look back and start to bank ideas for next year.  Rabbi Eddie Goldberg shares thoughts from his seder experience. 

Recently a stressed-out father asked me what haggadah would be best for a family with youngish children.  I was happy to recommend Sharing the Journey (CCAR Press), by Alan S. Yoffie and illustrated by Mark Podwal. But I reminded the dad that the haggadah does not a good seder make, by itself.  The more important question is not which haggadah but what is one trying to accomplish.  Indeed, a case in Chicago could be made for taking the children to Lake Shore Drive and asking them to imagine reaching a large body of water with a hostile army in pursuit.  What would they do?

Nevertheless, due to Chicago weather (it was snowing during the seder) and inconvenient rules involving religious rituals on state beaches, the seder we conducted last night was a close second to being the most authentic Pesach moment for the eleven of us, mostly cousins, who shared a seder for the first time ever or, if not, then in about thirty-five years.

In preparing for the seder I knew that the new haggadah would serve us well with its respect for tradition, beautiful appearance, transliteration (mostly) and contemporary spin.  I also spend a lot of time on a Power Point (or Keynote) component.  (I even have a version of the new haggadah on my iPad.)  Although I found the Visual Tefilah Haggadah supplement well done, I chose after considerable thought to use instead my own, which does not follow the new haggadah so much as provide a midrashic complement to it.  In general I see electronic tefilah (or seders) as an enrichment and not mirroring of the worship or ritual experience.

I am glad to report that, due in some measure to my efforts and the invaluable help of my 23-year old USC computer science grad, the seder came off without a hitch.  The incredible culinary talents and warmth of my wife did not hurt either.  It was great presenting a seder experience to contemporaries who thought that Maxwell House equaled the tip-top of haggadah offerings.  We also had a nine-year old cousin who had never attended a seder before.  She entered visibly scared and annoyed and left the star of the seder and having asked all the right questions and more!

Tonight the seder will be presented at our congregation with the new haggadot.  I know the food and atmosphere will not be able to  match last night’s efforts but I am delighted that, if we succeed, the haggadah will have proven its worth once again as a sacred component of an evergreen evening.

RabbiGoldbergSeder-2014

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.

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Books Passover Pesach Rabbis Reform Judaism Technology

Pesach Blog: Why is this Haggadah different from all other Haggadot?

VT1Purim is over so Pesach is not far away.  My congregation has the new CCAR Haggadah (Sharing the Journey) set and ready to go for a second night congregational seder.  Choosing a haggadah was the easy part in that the new Yoffie/Podwal is beautifully done and user friendly.  The challenge is creating an experience at a community seder that feels authentic and participatory.  I am planning to use Visual T’filah and group singing to help create community as well as engage participants.  I can also plan some shtick.

Fortunately there is much more that this new haggadah offers.  For instance, one can choose to buy on iTunes an electronic version of Sharing the Journey.  Why bother?  I decided to try it myself.  This is what I discovered:

STJ3First, it is very cool that I can tap on a song in the e-book and the melody is sung.  Think how nervous or musically challenged seder leaders now have support at their very fingers.  There are even choices between different melodies, say, for the four questions.  In addition, there are interactive things to do with the e-book that will make the seder more fun for a child.  If that were not enough, there are also notes for leaders that are accessed by tapping on a leader’s guide icon.  I am sure there is more to discover as I explore the interactive book.  (Btw, I foresee a revamped MT iPad tool that offers instructive tips and spiritual iyonim with a timely click.)

I will definitely use my iPad edition to lead my seder, and model it for others.  I don’t suppose the CCAR will have a Haggadah iPad Case by April so I will most likely go with my official Mishkan T’filah case.  But one can dream!

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.

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Books News Passover Pesach Rabbis Reform Judaism

Four Questions about the New Union Haggadah, Revised Edition

In anticipation of the forthcoming publication of The New Union Haggadah, Revised EditionCCAR rabbinic intern Liz Piper-Goldberg interviewed editor Rabbi Howard Berman.

1. In true Passover fashion, why is this haggadah different from all other haggadot? Can you tell us what makes it unique?  Why is this haggadah a good fit for the Jews of 2014?

NUH art sample 1A broad variety of historic minhagim, local traditions and ideologies are reflected in the hundreds of Haggadah versions available today. In the midst of this rich tapestry, the distinctive liturgical and spiritual heritage of American Reform Judaism stands in its own integrity and enduring significance.  Our Movement has always created liturgies to give expression to the special understandings of Jewish belief and life embodied in our liberal spiritual commitment. Characteristically, Reform Judaism – and particularly the Classical Reform understanding – has interpreted the Passover Story from a broad, universalistic perspective- as a paradigm of redemption and liberation for all humanity… to use Rabbi Herbert Bronstein’s wonderful imagery- retained in this new version – “living our story that is told for all people…whose shining conclusion is yet to unfold!”  The traditional Haggadah is far narrower and more particularistic in its vision, and other versions focus on particular ideological themes. Our Reform versions, all of which have built upon the foundation of the original Union Haggadah, embraces a far more inclusive approach, recognizing the enduring inspiration of the Exodus as a model for so many others, while celebrating its unique meaning for us as those who came out of Egypt.

2. What is the history of the original 1923 Union Haggadah? What was unique about that Haggadah at the time?

The 1923 version of the Union Haggadah was in turn a revision of the first edition of 1907. At that point, the pioneer Reformers had shifted the locus of religious life and worship from the home to the synagogue, where the principles of a new, modern, liberal Judaism were proclaimed in the liturgy and expounded from the pulpit. Passover was celebrated in Reform temples with well-attended services on the first and seventh Festival days, highlighted by the majestic liturgy of the Union Prayer Book’s texts expressing the vision of the “universal Passover” of future redemption and liberation of all humanity. However, in the early years of the 20th century, the home Seder had indeed declined in popular observance. The leaders of our Movement were confident that a new version of the Haggadah, which, like the Union Prayer Book itself, would be “at once modern in spirit and rich in traditional elements” would renew the compelling meanings of the Seder and inspire a revival of its celebration.  This goal was indeed fulfilled, and what had been an “anxious” hope was rewarded with the eventual reality today, that the Passover Seder remains the most observed religious tradition among American Reform Jews.

3. What new traditions have been added to this edition?  What did you want to keep the same, and what did you want to change, and why?

NUH art sample 2In the New Union Haggadah, we have attempted to preserve the literary beauty, the direct and accessible text, and the broad, universalistic spirit embodied in the 1923 version. We have rendered the majority of the English text in contemporary, inclusive, gender-neutral language, following the egalitarian values that have guided all of the CCAR’s liturgical developments over the past forty years. In the spirit of Classical Reform, this haggadah is conceived to be used as a forthrightly and primarily English language experience- with all of the major Hebrew texts included in transliteration, and accompanied by versions of the most popular holiday songs and hymns that may be sung in both languages.

We have introduced new elements in the text as well. These include traditional parts of the Haggadah that were consciously eliminated by the editors of the earlier versions. Our predecessors sought to remain true to the vigorously rational spirit of a liberal faith that rejected superstition and parochialism. The original Union Haggadah consequently omitted such well-known dimensions of the ritual as the triumphant enumeration of the Ten Plagues – considered a “vindictive act unworthy of enlightened minds and hearts.” While they provided for the tradition of welcoming of the Prophet Elijah, there was no particular ceremony attached to it – reflecting the ambivalence toward what may have been considered a remnant of ancient myth and fantasy.  We have reinstated the recollection of the plagues, retaining the beautiful and moving interpretation originated by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein in the 1974 A Passover Haggadah. This brilliant and creative rendition links the recitation of the plagues to the symbolism of the ten drops of wine- the diminishing of our joy at our own redemption as we recall the sufferings of our oppressors. We have also been inspired by the concept of echoing the ancient plagues with those of our own time – also a feature of the Bronstein version –offered here in a new form that weaves the two together. Despite the rationalist objections, Elijah remained stubbornly ensconced in the hearts of most Reform Jews. For the ceremony of Opening of the Door for the Prophet, we have reclaimed a little-known supplement created by the Joint Committee on Ceremonies of the CCAR and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1942 – which brilliantly recasts this beloved tradition in the universalistic spirit of Reform Judaism, as an authentic question and answer dialogue between parent and child. In addition, we have incorporated more recent innovations that have broadened the embrace and symbolism of the Seder – the Cup of Miriam and the Orange on the Plate – with explanations that express the heightened awareness and contemporary sensibilities of these popular rituals, in a way that compliments the rest of the text.

4. Which aspects or traditions of the Passover seder are most meaningful to you? How are they expressed in the Union Haggadah?

NUH Page Sample 3Like so many of us, having grown up with the old Union Haggadah, its cadences and distinctive literary style echo in my consciousness as the quintessential sounds and images of Pesach.  The unique phrases of its Magid narrative continue to express the Festival’s timeless, transforming message. Preserving and creatively renewing this tradition for a new generation is the essence of my work with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, and has guided my efforts in this project.  The Seder’s symbolic progression from remembrance to hope, from oppression to liberation to future redemption, all find profoundly clear and compelling expression for me in the Union Haggadah’s simplicity and flow.

Ultimately, what we “tell our children on this day” encompasses a rich and distinctive heritage that weaves together our identities and experiences as Jews, as Reform Jews, and as American Jews.  The seamless integration of each of these strands of our tradition and faith remain the unique genius of Classical Reform Judaism and the guiding principle of The New Union Haggadah.

Rabbi Howard Berman A. Berman is Founding Rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston. He is also Rabbi Emeritus of Chicago Sinai Congregation, and the Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism.  

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Books Passover Pesach Prayer Technology

Passover Blog: Using Visual T’filah at Your Seder

Mah Nishtana halaila hazeh?  What makes this seder different from all others? 

For many families and synagogues this year, it will be seeing the haggadah in a new light.  This year, the CCAR Press is excited to offer a Visual Tfilah companion to Sharing the Journey: The  Hagaddah for the Contemporary Family

Dan1Visual Tfilah, grounded in historical Jewish practices and built on modern technologies, mingles text and images on the large screen for all to enjoy. The images help give deeper meaning and connection to the ancient words, and the words up on the screen allow us to lift our eyes, our voices, and our hands. Visual Tfilah has become a popular way to enhance prayer services, and now it can enhance our Pesach seders, as well.

One of my favorite things on Pesach is to open the (printed) haggadah and see wine stains and crumbs from seders past.  It reminds me that in this ever-changing world, some things stay comfortably the same.  Its the same story we retell year after year.  The same rituals.  And yet, Im always excited to see what new materials, readings, and activities the seder leader will bring to the table.  While the story of redemption and freedom never changes, we are always changing, and finding new ways of reconnecting to the same story is essential to keeping the messages relevant and engaging.  The haggadah, after all, at its core, is meant to inspire us to ask questions.

Dan2A few years ago, a number of colleagues and friends participated in Tweet the Exodus.  Not only was it amazing to see the story told in 140 character segments, but some of the tweets contained links to exciting multi-media resources to tell the story.  A particular favorite of mine was a Youtube video of a family caught in their car surrounded by a massive locust swarm. (http://youtu.be/wxHOxCmbs-8). It was terrifying and awe-inspiring, and helped me understand better than anything else what it might have been like to witness this plague.  Can you imagine being able to share some of the other plagues this way? Or what about showing a short clip discussing what scientists have said most recently about the splitting of the Red Sea? You could even show a map tracking the 40 year journey of the Israelites stop by stop. Unfortunately, you cant embed Youtube videos in a printed haggadah.  But you can put them up on a screen.

Dan3And thats what I love about using Visual Tfilah at a seder: you can add new readings, videos, and more to enhance the experience and enrich the story (without creating a handout and adding yet another item to juggle on the table).  You could insert a PollEverywhere (polleverywhere.com) into the Visual Tfilah to ask your participants to vote on their favorite plague or even to pick the closing song.  You could ask participants to record a short skit ahead of time to be shown during the seder.  As long as you have the screen set up, you might even want to Skype in Bubbie who couldnt join you at the seder this year.  In fact, the screen becomes a blank slate for including almost anything you can think of, and the Sharing the Journey Visual Tfilah gives you the framework from which to unleash your creativity.

The nice thing about VT is that it doesnt negate the use of your printed haggadot.  No matter your inclination or comfort level, everyone can be included. Many folks are accustomed to using print haggadot and will be resistant to giving them up.  And anyway, who can deny the fun of being able to flip ahead to count how many pages are left, or even the benefit of being able to linger on a reading or an idea on your own?

Sharing the Journey VT is designed for both large communal seders, as well as smaller in-home seders.  If you dont have your own large built-in screens and projectors, smaller portable ones or even flat screen TVs will work perfectly.  In fact, an iPad and an AppleTV can be the perfect way for the seder leader to lead from her seat.

Sharing the Journey is also available as an ebook for iPads. (ccar.co/journey). One can follow along with the seder, just as in the book, but also find interactive features and embedded audio.  (Please note: we discourage disDan4playing the ebook on a large screen.  It is not designed for this and will be too difficult for seder participants to read.  Conversely, the VT is specifically designed to be projected and read from a distance.)

So while youd never want to spill wine on your iPad, nor get crumbs up on the screen, we hope Visual Tfilah becomes another tradition at your seder table, and a way to help all of us actually return to the table to finish the seder after the meal is served.  Chag sameach!

 
Rabbi Dan Medwin is the
Publishing Technology Manager, CCAR Press.

p.s.: A Seder Leader’s Guide, complete with two CD’s of music, is also available for Sharing the Journey.  In addition, the music can be downloaded from iTunes 

Categories
Books Passover Pesach

Pesach Blog: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Buy a New Haggadah

My history with haggadot is probably typical but certainly multi-layered.  I grew up with the venerable Union Haggadah.  In rabbinical school I was exposed to its successor, the “Baskin” Haggadah.  I then worked for an HUC administrator in researching various haggadot.  Even in the mid-eighties there were countless varieties, including one for vegans: The Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb.  Around this time David Moss was previewing his soon-to-be famous haggadah, Song of David.  I joked to my fiancée that she could have that instead of an engagement ring.  She took me seriously and we use the haggadah (alas, only one copy) every year.

For my family, after many years of experimenting we settled on the Shalom Hartman haggadah, Seder for a Different Night, and its successor.  They are wonderful resources but quite complicated.  For second night seders at the congregation I have used for many years the Eli Gindi Berhman House Family Haggadah.

Art from Sharing the Journey, by Mark Podwal
Art from Sharing the Journey, by Mark Podwal

In my new congregation – Temple Sholom of Chicago – I have decided to use the new CCAR haggadah, Sharing the Journey by Alan Yoffie, with art by Mark Podwal.  We will also try it out with our family on the first night.  The haggadah appeals to me because of its mix of being user-friendly and having some depth.  I am also excited about incorporating the visual t’filah element, having made my own power points for the seder in the past few years.

In the coming weeks I look forward to reporting how my preparation and execution goes.  Like a prayer book, I know that a haggadah does not a seder make.  But it is a sacred and useful tool, if it meets that elusive balance between being complex but not complicated.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.

Categories
Books Passover Pesach Reform Judaism

CCAR Haggadot: A Feast of Haggadah Choices

I know, I know, Purim hasn’t even arrived yet, but Passover isn’t too far away and it’s never too early to begin to think about preparations.  One of the first questions that always comes up is which haggadah to use.  Here at the CCAR, we have a long history of publishing haggadot, and today we offer many different options.  Each one offers something a little bit different to meet the needs of your family or community.

It all began in 1892, which marks the beginning of Reform haggadot in North America. That was when the CCAR attempted to publish the first Union Prayer Book, in which a new haggadah was meant to be incorporated. That prayer book was ultimately and infamously rejected by the CCAR, and the haggadah was later published as a stand-alone volume (the subsequent UPB 2, which did pass the approval process, did not include the haggadah).

This early haggadah was an adaptation by Rabbi Isaac Moses of an even earlier Reform haggadah published in Bavaria in German by Rabbi Leopold Stein in 1841.  This original haggadah, as well as its subsequent adaptations and translations, was a contemporary rethinking of Passover for the Jews of the time.  As Dr. Richard Sarason writes, “While a strong affective connection to the seder ritual remains, there is a clear cognitive distancing from its premodern form and some of its content, which is either eliminated entirely or reshaped to conform to contemporary sensibilities. The passages of classical Rabbinic discourse are deleted, as are any angry or vengeful references to the gentiles” (Sarason, “The Haggadah and Reform Judaism” in The New Union Haggadah, CCAR Press, 2014).  Redemption is framed not as something far off in the future to which to yearn, but rather taking place in its audience’s own time as Jews gained political, social, and professional rights.  A revision, with slightly more Hebrew, was published in 1907/08.

Union HaggadahThe beloved gray hardcover known as the Union Haggadah, published in 1923, was a revision of this early 19th century haggadah (the image here is of the paperback facsimile version). This edition contains more Hebrew than the earlier versions, had a fuller version of the Exodus story, and also restored the traditional divisions of the seder.  But it still shared the original sensibility, looking not toward a future time of redemption but celebrating the freedom and liberty available to Jews in North America.  Generations of Reform Jews were raised on this version of the haggadah, as well as the revised version published following World War II. It was also appreciated for its gorgeous black and white artwork and elegant design, as well as the musical notation provided.  The CCAR Press has made a paperback version of this haggadah available.

PASSHAGG COVIn 1974 CCAR published A Passsover Haggadah, known familiarly as “the Baskin” though it should be known as the Bronstein-Baskin, created as it was under the editorial leadership of Rabbi Herbert Bronstein. This was the first full color haggadah from the Reform Movement, incorporating the striking art of Leonard Baskin.  A Passover Haggadah became an instant bestseller, as ubiquitous in Reform homes as The Union Haggadah once was.  This haggadah incorporates many supplementary readings and songs, drawing on the post-Holocaust Jewish experience as well as acknowledging the existence of and relationship with Israel.  It uses a much fuller Hebrew text than the  previous haggadot, a beautiful poetic style of English, adds back in much of the rabbinic commentary edited out in various editions of The Union Haggadah, and draws on many contemporary sources including Hebrew poetry.  This is an excellent haggadah for those who want a rich seder experience, with a tremendous amount of material to build upon.

Open Door-COVER-NEWThe Open Door, edited by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and published in 2002, reflects further changes in the North American Jewish community.  This haggadah, with beautiful art by Ruth Weisberg, incorporates voices of those previously marginalized or left out, including women’s voice, GLBT voices, and those from non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities.  This haggadah is a great addition to any collection, offering new perspectives on familiar texts and opening the door for all those who want to enter.

STJCoverIn 2012 CCAR Press added another haggadah to our offerings.  Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family, edited by Alan Yoffie with gorgeous full color artwork by Mark Podwal, offers a welcoming and accessible approach to Passover.  This haggadah is especially a good fit for those who don’t know a lot about Passover rituals or practices but wants to get started, or those with non-Jewish family members and friends around the table.  All are warmly welcomed and included in the shared experience of moving from slavery to redemption, with Sharing the Journey follows the traditional steps of the seder in a joyous, streamlined, non-intimidating way.  All Hebrew is fully transliterated and gender inclusive. There are discussion questions and explanations throughout. This Haggadah is also a great choice for congregational seders, which could be accompanied by the forthcoming Visual T’filah version. A separate Leader’s Guide is available, including a 2 CD set, and the album is also available on iTunes, both with words and without, for singing along too.  There is also an iPad version of Sharing the Journey, and it will shortly be available as Visual T’filah, a terrific resource for congregational seders.  In addition, a selection of Podwal’s signed giclee prints of images from the book are available and make special very special gifts.

CCAR-UnionOur latest haggadah is a completely revised edition of the 1923 Union Haggadah.  This edition, The New Union Haggadah, is being created in consultation with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, with Rabbi Howard Berman as consulting editor and Rabbi Ben Zeidman as development editor.  This revision features beautiful updates of the original artwork, as well as some new full color art based on Passover images from stained glasses windows found in Reform synagogues across North America.  For those who still feel connected to the 1923 edition but want something slightly more contemporary, this is a perfect choice.  This edition preserves the beauty and elegance of the original, with its focus on the shared Jewish and American moral values and emphasis on liberty for all, while now offering full transliteration, gender inclusive language, and updates to the original such as Miriam’s cup and the option of an orange on the seder plate.  In addition, we are also offering a large print edition.

CHLDHAGG COVAnd then there’s A Children’s Haggadah,  by Howard Bogot and Robert Orkand, with illustrations by Devis Grebu.  This child-friendly haggadah features a vibrant fold-out section of the whole seder plate.   Designed especially for young people, this haggadah is a great choice for home seders with lots of young children, as well as for schools or community family seders.

There are many haggadot to choose from.  We’re proud to be able to offer a range of different options.  And of course there’s always the tradition of collecting many different haggadot, all the better to pick and choose the parts you like from each. Have fun making your choice, and chag sameach!

Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher and Director of CCAR Press

 

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General CCAR Passover Pesach Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Real Passover Journey: The Road to Marriage Equality

Rabbi Denise Eger speaking at the rally in Washington, DC.
Rabbi Denise Eger speaking at the rally in Washington, DC.

I just returned from three days in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the beginning of Passover and an important crossroads on the road to freedom for the LGBT community.  The first two days of Passover were momentous because this year’s story outlined in the Haggadah was more personal than ever before.   The Haggadah reminds us to imagine that we went forth out of Egypt ourselves. As I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the first two mornings of Passover, surrounded many dressed in red  worn for LGBT equality, I knew I was marching out of Egypt.

This year the Supreme Court of the United States heard two important cases about the freedom to marry for gay men and lesbians in our country. On the first morning of Passover, California’s Prop 8 case was heard. This case concerns whether or not Proposition 8 that was passed in November 2008 is legal. In other words, can a majority of voters take away rights from a minority!  Marriage equality was legal in California from June 2008 until the proposition passed in November 2008.  More than 18,000 couples married during that time.  I had the privilege of performing the first marriage in Los Angeles County.

On Wednesday the Court heard Windsor v the United States.  Edie Windsor sued the US for not recognizing her marriage to Thea Speyer. Upon Thea’s death Edie had to pay $363,000 of federal estate tax because the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA would not recognize her as the legal spouse. Edie knew this was an injustice and wanted to do something about it. She and her partner of over 40 years were married in Canada but the federal government did not recognize their marriage when Thea died.

Our Reform movement has long been an advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community.  The first resolution of support came in 1964 by the then National Federation of Sisterhoods now Women of Reform Judaism, who called for the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between adults!  In 1984 our then UAHC in a biennial resolution called for federal recognition of domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples and equal federal benefits to marriage! And our own CCAR endorsed civil marriage for gay men and lesbians early on in the marriage equality movement in 1996!

But on Tuesday morning as I prepared to speak at the rally on the day the California Prop 8 case was being heard I could feel the wheels of history literally turning.  You could feel it in the young people who turned out to support marriage equality. You could feel it in the older lesbian couples who flew in from Ohio just to be there.  You could feel in the gay dads schlepping their two young children to meet other families just like theirs!  Even when the opposition marched toward the several thousand gathered to support marriage equality-the opposition didn’t stay long.  The National Organization for Marriage and the Catholic Church bused in lots of Catholic high school students to march against marriage equality, many of whom were told they had to go or lose class credit! But the opposition marched toward us and was peaceably turned around by pro-marriage equality activists and the Capitol police. They marched back to their gathering place chanting, “One man, One Woman-only That’s what the Bible says!” I guess they haven’t read the story of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah!

908758_10151519110782487_2128985697_nAs I took the podium to speak, I looked out on a sea of American flags and rainbow flags and people adorned in red it gave new meaning to the Red Sea! The crowd was so diverse, every race and ethnic group seemed present.  The signs people held aloft –included children of gay and lesbian parents who had homemade signs that proclaimed “Let my moms get married.”  One of my favorites was “Bigotry is not very Christian.”  Other couples had signs proclaiming how long they have been together 7 years-to 40 years to two older gentleman clearly in their 80’s who had been together nearly 60 years. It was very inspiring to be with Americans of every stripe who simply wanted their rights and responsibilities to care for their spouses.   I met a couple one in a wheelchair who had been the first to marry in the West Point Chapel.  Of course one was Jewish!

The scene outside as I spoke was different than the highly structured form and format of a Supreme Court hearing.  Even as some of the conservative justices wondered aloud if our country was ready for marriage equality, calling “it an experiment that hasn’t been around as long as the internet” it was clear from the number of years many of the couples has been together that gay “marriage” has been around forever. What hasn’t been around is the legal recognition and the protections embedded in the legal definition of marriage.

As I spoke about the Passover story and the themes of the holiday from degradation to dignity, from oppression to freedom the crowd understood that it was their story too.  Nine justices were deciding at the very moment and all were wondering if their hearts would be hardened to the arguments or whether finally LGBT couples who wish to marry will be able to do so.  In June we will find out how the Court will rule. So I am counting the days along with counting the omer.

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of co-leading a Prop 8 Passover Seder at the Equality Center at the Human Rights Campaign building. Formerly the B’nai Brith headquarters it was a poetic spatial affirmation between the Jewish commitment to tikkun olam that used to take place in those very rooms and the continuing work for equality and justice that is done now in the same space! The Passover Seder was organized by a former Religious Action Center Legislative Assistant, Joanna Blotner who now works for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.  Joanna grew up in our movement. She worked at HRC for several years after her time at the RAC. She is a straight ally. But she and a group of friends organized an amazing Seder with an inspiring Haggadah dedicated to equality for LGBT people and intertwined with the story of our Exodus from slavery!   More than 115 primarily young people in their 20’s and 30’s celebrated Passover together and talked about the meaning of equality, the meaning of liberty and the meaning of tikkun olam in the context of the Passover story.  I don’t know whether I was more moved by leading the Seder or being with these inspiring young leaders like Joanna!

There is no stopping now.  Whatever way the court rules (and pundits are having a field day trying to figure out from the questions how they will decide) the arc of justice is bending rapidly.  Just see the cover of the recent Time magazine. Watch the push for marriage equality in places like Minnesota, Rhode Island and Illinois.

And yet there are plenty of places where the LGBT community faced continued bigotry in the form of legislation. You can still be fired in 33 states in the United States for simply being gay. And in Arizona there is a terribly hateful “bathroom bill” aimed at transgender people.  And of course young people are still being bullied for perceived sexual orientation on school yards everywhere.

I have hope. This Passover gave me hope that we are on our way to the Promised Land. I have hope that the court will restore marriage equality in California. I have hope that DOMA will be declared unconstitutional. I have hope that the march to full equality is in full swing.  And I hope you all will actively work toward these freedoms in your community and work to actively help your young people learn how they can make a difference too.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue. She is currently President Elect of the CCAR.

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Passover Pesach Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Prayer for Pesach 5773/2013

Israel beachWhat’s it going to take to make the waters part?

That’s a good question to ask tonight, beyond the other four.

The waters of complacency, of ignorance and fear

The waters of intransigence, of bigotry and rage

The waters of hostility, of hopelessness and war

These waters divide one shore from the other:

Israelis from Palestinians

Red States from Blue States

Privileged from Impoverished

Gun lovers from gun haters

Jew from Christian from Muslim

Nation from nation and race from race

What’s it going to take to make the waters part?

The waters that keep us from moving forward

The waters that drown dialogue in demonization

The waters that say, “We resign ourselves to the status quo”

These waters are strong enough to swallow an army.

Will it take a Moses with his staff outstretched?

A miracle? A plague?

A prayer, incantation, silent wish?

Petitioning the waves?

Only this:

People united in their faith that change will come when we truly want it.

People unbending in their demand that peace will come when we are ready to will it.

People willing to enter the sea and with God’s help, to make the waters move.

This is what our Pesach means and this is why we pray.

God, strengthen our steps to do more than dip a tentative toe in the water.

Engage our hearts, our soul and might,

And let Your light shine the way.

 Rabbi Jonathan Blake is the Senior Rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York