Passover Pesach

The Freedom Seder

Last year, two brave mothers approached me for a meeting. They were looking to find educational opportunities for their children with special needs. Tired of turning to other synagogues where they felt less connected, or Chabad where they felt philosophically or religiously uncomfortable, they wanted Temple Israel to be place of learning and experiencing Judaism for their children, just like it had been for them and the other children we serve. It was such a beautifully authentic need that I could not ignore. Thus begun my first humble steps into Special Needs programming for our synagogue.

I quickly consulted with colleagues and then more seriously applied to the Matan Institute for Educational Directors to help me best serve the needs of this community. Matan educates Jewish leaders, educators and communities to empower them to create learning environments supportive of children with special needs, through training Institutes and consultations across North America. By advocating for the inclusion of diverse learners, Matan enables the Jewish community to realize the gift of every individual and fulfill its obligation to embrace all children regardless of learning challenges in every Jewish educational setting.

And so I set out to create our first holiday program designed for special needs children and their entire family, called the Freedom Seder. The Freedom Seder is designed to look a lot like a camp program. There is music with a song leader, it is interactive and inclusive, it aims to inspire and educate learners on multiple levels (including adults) and it is flexible. We have learned that the space should be a safe one. Children can be who they are – we don’t expect them to “sit still” or do all the activities. We hope they will participate, but we also know that some days are tougher than others and the quiet room, with Passover books and pillows and soft lighting might be a great option for a particular child on that day. We offer tactile activities, but we make sure there are alternatives for those that struggle with sensory processing disorders. Our Freedom Seder is a one hour program that gives these children the “freedom” to explore different aspects of the Seder. They can plant parsley seeds, vote on their favorite part of the story, taste different kinds of matzah and tell us which one they liked the best. They can make an afikoman bag and color in different parts of the Seder. And their parents can meet one another, get to know our clergy (who all volunteer to be present) and watch their children explore with excitement their rich and engaging tradition.

All of our families deserve and so yearn for a place that lacks judgement or places unrealistic demands on their time, energy or child. We need to provide educational opportunities that are stimulating and adjustable. At Temple Israel we are committed to providing more of these opportunities where we educate differently then we have in the past, we assume nothing, we build relationships of care and trust and we provide interactive and tactile activities at the heart of all we do. Most importantly we have reframed our goals – we do care that the content be current, engaging and deeply enriching but we are also supportive of other goals. For some of these new families the goals may be to meet new faces, hear Jewish music, or simply feel comfortable in the building. We have only just begun. This year we provided two family programs (Chanukah and Passover), we will begin to make our family Shabbat services an inclusive and warm setting for all of our families – including those whose children have special needs and we opened our Purim Carnival early for those children who need a more quiet approach to a Purim celebration.  These steps towards an inclusive community for all help us break down the walls that for too long restricted some of our families from participating in Jewish life and learning.

I can say without hesitation that these hour-long programs are the most rewarding hours of my career; the joy of learning is palpable, the enthusiasm contagious and the gratitude overwhelming. Each year we read the Passover story I always find myself lingering on the moment at the sea. As the Israelites crossed between two walls of water, perhaps they found themselves also caught between feelings of gratitude and nervous anticipation of the unknown. Where would this journey lead the people? Did they know enough? Were they strong enough? Would they live up to the expectations of the God who redeemed them from the darkness?  I too face this new path, humbled by what I don’t know, but grateful and eager to provide new ways for each learner to connect powerfully to our beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman serves the Temple Israel of the City of New York.

Passover Pesach

Our Real Security Tonight is Being Here, All Together

All rabbis have humbling moments when the words that spontaneously emerge from our mouths wind up being far more impactful than those sermons over which we slave through ceaseless drafts.  Such a moment happened to me just this past week.

The setting?  Our annual Interfaith Seder.  The timing? Right after a full Paschal meal and before we got to an ecumenical Barech, our grace after meals.  The impetus?  I was doing what all rabbis must do… thanking everyone who helped.  Given the fact that we host over 150 people from 12 different faith institutions, feature two different choirs, include 14 clergy partners, and engage 30 temple volunteers, there was a long list of people to whom I owed gratitude for sharing such an event.  Equal–if not above–them all, are all the members of the staff team at Sinai.  I came around to thanking Bill, who is part of our security team.  Right after I thanked Billy, these words just came out of my mouth, my mind:

Our real security tonight is being here, all together.

“Let all who are hungry come and eat” can be taken in many different ways.  Some of us, cleaning our houses of chametz, make donations to local food pantries to make sure those who literally hunger can find sustenance this festival season.  Others of us host communal sedarim so that no one has to be alone on Passover.  At Chicago Sinai Congregation, a different kind of hunger brought together a community across lines of race, class and color.  I just didn’t realize it until the Haggadot had closed and Adir Hu was but an echo in our ears.

I inherited a remarkable ritual when I joined this synagogue: every year, about two weeks before Passover, we host an Interfaith Seder for our non-Jewish neighbors.  The event was explained to me as an opportunity to share the best of what Judaism has to offer: we stage a model Seder through which we can teach our Jewish practices, traditions, and most deeply-held values.  With the tools of our Haggadah, our favorite songs, and some explanations along the way, we manage to create a lovely evening, and express the importance of our core narrative of liberation with the unique impact of Pesach.

When we gathered for last year’s Interfaith Seder, I did what many of do at Seder: I added a supplemental reading to help us focus on contemporary issues of oppression.  The Reform Movement was launching its Racial Justice campaign; I barely need spill any ink expressing why that is relevant here in Chicago.  And so one year ago, just before we blessed the matzah and made our Hillel sandwiches, I gathered the clergy who were in attendance, and we read the Racial Justice supplement created by Rabbis Organizing Rabbis.  We simply stood at the front of the social hall and read from photocopied pieces of paper.  A last-minute idea turned out to be last year’s most powerful moment of the night.

And so, a few weeks ago, I went searching for something new to supplement the Seder, a different piece for the participating clergy to read.  After a it of poking around, I decided to excerpt part of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “No Religion is an Island,” originally published in 1966.*  Amidst the rush of preparing for multiple Sedarim, a few shabbat sermons, and a CCAR convention, it seemed like it would fit the bill just fine.

I was not prepared to hear by friend and partner, the Reverend Randall K. Blakey, read these words:

First and foremost we meet as human beings who have so much in common: a heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, a capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human. My first task in every encounter is to comprehend the person-hood of the human being I face, to sense the kinship of being human, solidarity of being.

This is what our Seder, every Seder, is about: the kinship and solidarity of all human beings.  As the assembled clergy continued to read, Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, AME Zion-ists, UCC-ers, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews literally brought life to Heschel’s vision.  And tears to people’s eyes.


We are living in turbulent times.  Political forces threaten to dismantle long-standing inter-religious partnerships and splinter off friends forced to protect their small self-interests.  Cruel and sadistic individuals call or email our institutions and threaten our precious children; we fear these actions won’t culminate merely in threats.  Our nation’s beacon of hope for the world’s tempest-tossed–a most fitting metaphor for our Passover theme–is being dimmed to darkness.  We find few places to feel secure.

This was the hunger people brought with them to this year’s Interfaith Seder: a hunger for human decency, a hunger for a hopeful message,  a hunger for belonging to a larger community united for the common good.  Oh, that all who have such hunger could come and be nourished!

I was hungry, too.  What I realized during our Interfaith Seder, what actually came out of my mouth before it entered my consciousness, is that–for all the needed guards and protocols Jewish institutions require–our greatest security during these turbulent times will be our friends, our community, our partners.  When we build strong relationships with friends of other faiths, when we speak honestly of shared values that arise from different sources, when we live our lack of fear for the other and demonstrate a compassionate curiosity in other human beings, we build an impenetrable fortress of faith.  Not faith in the same God, perhaps, or even any God at all.  But faith in united purpose.  Faith in common destiny.  Faith in each and every human being who hungers.

Let all who are hungry find the sustenance we need in this year’s Passover.

Rabbi Seth Limmer serves Chicago Sinai Congregation.  

Books Holiday Passover Pesach

Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family

Passover Seders in my family were always large affairs.  Persons who had no place to go for Seder (“Welcome the stranger…”) and persons of other faiths joined family members in celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt more than three thousand years ago.  Whether conducted by my grandfather (mostly in Hebrew), my parents (much more in English) or my father-in-law (a Reform Rabbi who used a healthy mix of Hebrew and English), we joyously celebrated together.

Several years ago, I began to attend a series of programs focusing on interfaith issues for Jewish professionals and lay leaders conducted by the Outreach Training Institute (now Reform Jewish Outreach Boston).  After attending panel discussions, workshops and seminars over several years I decided to write a Passover Haggadah for the contemporary Jewish family – which may include members who were born Jewish, those who have chosen to be Jewish, and family members of other faiths.  Looking across the spectrum of knowledge, religious practice, and faith – from the observant to those for whom Judaism and Jewish Festivals and traditions were new – my purpose was to create a text for a joyful and inspirational family Seder.

The result of my efforts is Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press (CCAR Press).  It is illustrated with magnificent original art work by the contemporary Jewish artist Mark Podwal.  Sharing the Journey is an inclusive Haggadah that addresses the needs of every family member.  For family members and guests who are attending their first Seder or do not know what questions to ask about the observance of Passover, Sharing the Journey explains the meaning of the symbols and rituals of Passover in language that is clear and understandable.  For family members whose participation in a Seder is an important religious occasion, Sharing the Journey provides an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of God’s teachings through the story of the Exodus and to renew and strengthen commitment to the pursuit of freedom, tolerance, and justice.  For everyone, Sharing the Journey provides the framework for a joyful and meaningful Passover celebration – enabling all family members to truly experience the power of the Seder and the story of the Exodus: A shared Jewish experience that has historical and contemporary significance to persons of all faiths.

Best wishes from me and the entire Yoffie Family for an inclusive, joyous, and inspirational Passover Seder.

Alan S. Yoffie is a former president of Temple Emanuel in Worcester, MA and an active member of its Jewish community.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Worcester Jewish Community Center and The Jewish Healthcare Center and as a member of the Ritual Committee of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA.   In addition to Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family, Mr.Yoffie wrote a Seder Leader’s Guide, also available from the CCAR Press, which includes two CDs (instrumental and vocal) that provide a “musical companion” for the Seder.   


LGBT Pride Month: Hungry for Justice

It was quite a scene on the fourth day of Pesach in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rabbis from around the state (including several CCAR colleagues) had gathered in the State Legislative Building for a press conference denouncing H.B. 2 and calling upon the Legislature to repeal it. Following the press conference, we reassembled in the chapel for what we all assume was the first kriat hallel to be proclaimed in that space. Six rabbis each introduced a psalm with a reflection and then led an overflowing chapel in song and prayer.

I had the privilege of framing the service, and shared these words:

One of the things that makes the recitation of the Hallel come alive for me is the frequent and easy alternating between person. Like the psalms as a whole, there’s no pinning Hallel down as about either the individual or the collective. One moment we’re singing out as Israel, or even more expansively as “all who revere the Eternal One;” the next, we’re lamenting on our own, bringing forth our private pain. Psalm by psalm, and even verse by verse, the shift occurs.

What I learn from that shift is this: it’s for each of us to locate our own story within the larger story of a People, and all people. Standing on the Bicentennial Mall yesterday afternoon in that fusion coalition of black, brown and white, straight and queer, diverse in gender identity and expression, in means, in political views, I felt keenly who I was (a privileged, white, cisgender male, a Jew, a rabbi) and also with whom I stood. Standing here now, I feel my place no less keenly. Praying the Hallel today I am a small but not insignificant part of my people, of God’s people gone forth from Egypt, crossing the Jordan, marching to the Promised Land.

But I am also present with my own personal story of liberation. And my story is bound up with my son’s story. H.B. 2 seeks to use him as a wedge in a cynical political ploy for votes and power. In doing so, it makes him, and all transgender people in North Carolina, less safe. And while I’d be here with my colleagues today standing against H.B. 2 were I still the father of three daughters, as I pray this Hallel I will give thanks for the personal redemption that’s come to my family since my son learned more fully who he is, and began teaching the rest of us.

Pride Month is about celebrating newly-won rights and standing up where those rights are under attack. As a Reform Rabbi in North Carolina, and the father of a transgender son, I enter this month determined, and hungry for justice.

Rabbi Larry Bach serves Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina.

Passover Pesach

Monty Python and the Ten Plagues

Growing up I was a big fan of Monty Python; I would listen to their recording “Live at Drury Lane” over and over again, so much so that I could recite some of the sketches by heart.  One of my favorites was entitled ‘The Four Yorkshiremen’, and it involved four Yorkshiremen (as the name suggests) talking about how terrible and how difficult their lives were as children.  Each one tried to outdo the other with their exaggerated descriptions of childhood suffering; so that ultimately there can be no truth to the claims which include: paying for the privilege of going to work, living in a shoebox, and working a 29 hour day in the mill.  At the end the punchline is “But you try and tell the young people today that … and they won’t believe ya.”

In a blog post one writer drew a connection between these four Yorkshiremen and the three Rabbis, who discuss the Ten Plagues, within our Hagaddah.[1]  Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva engage in a conversation in which they exaggerate, or perhaps grow, the number of plagues that actually took place.  The author suggests that this is a way of competing to praise and glorify God, but I think something else is taking place.

As we read about the Ten Plagues, both in our Torah and the Hagaddah, many of us are uncomfortable at the fact that so much suffering had to befall the Egyptians in order that we might emerge from slavery to freedom.  Our Passover ritual of taking a drop of wine from our cups for each plague reveals that our joy is somewhat diminished because of the suffering that the plagues inflicted.  But I think that the words of the Hagaddah are designed to express further discomfort with the plagues and remove us from thinking too hard about the suffering that actually took place.

Immediately after reciting the Ten Plagues we read: “Rabbi Yehuda used to abbreviate the plagues with the acrostic: D’Tza’Ch, A’Da’Sh, B’A’Cha’B.”  While an acrostic does serve as a memory device, the words of the acrostic itself have no meaning.  In this way we remove ourselves from the reality of the plagues.  We remember that there were ten plagues, and we remember the initials of each plague, but what those plagues actually were is lost in the three made up words he uses as a memory device.

This is then followed by the three Rabbis and their story of exaggeration.  First up is Rabbi Yossi who claims that there were 10 plagues in Egypt, along with 50 plagues at the sea.  He uses two verses of Torah to prove this.  While the Israelites were in Egypt we read “the Egyptian magicians said to Pharaoh: ‘This [plague] is the finger of God’” (Ex. 8:15); and then at the Red Sea we read: “Israel saw the great hand that God used against the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:31).  If it was a finger in Egypt and a hand at the sea it stands to reason that if there were 10 plagues in Egypt, then there would have been 50 plagues at the sea.

Rabbi Eliezer builds on Rabbi Yossi’s theory, accepting that there were five times as many plagues at the sea as there were in Egypt, but he adds a new dimension.  Referencing Psalms 78:49 “God cast upon them the fierceness of God’s anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them” he claims that each plague was really four rolled into one.  The four dimensions in that verse are “wrath”, “indignation”, “trouble”, and “evil angels”. This leads to the claim that there were 40 plagues in Egypt and 200 plagues at the sea.  Rabbi Akiva goes one step further and divides the verse from Psalms so that there are five dimensions: “God’s anger”, “wrath”, “indignation”, “trouble”, and “evil angels”, for a grand total of 50 plagues in Egypt and 250 plagues at the sea.

This might appear like a competition to see who can glorify God the most, but there is something else going on, which is especially striking when following Rabbi Yossi’s acrostic.  Whether we accept that there were 60 plagues, 240 plagues, or even 300 plagues, with the potential for so many plagues the original 10 plagues in Egypt get lost in the mix, accounting for just a small percentage of the suffering that was actually inflicted.  While we might accept the reality of the Ten Plagues, as the exaggeration goes on we begin to doubt the veracity of what we were originally told.

The structure of the Hagaddah ensures that after reading the plagues we then essentially try to avoid the reality of what was actually done.  Our discomfort with the plagues is not new, the Rabbis who put together the Hagaddah felt the same discomfort and so they used their editorial power to minimize them, avoid them, and even lose sight of them.  And perhaps, after claiming that there were actually 300 plagues the final line, adapted from Monty Python, might have to be: “But you try and tell the people around the Seder Table that … and they won’t believe ya” – any maybe, in some way, that is what the Rabbis were going for.

[1] The blog post is available to read here.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman serves the Community Synagogue of Port Washington, New York. 

Passover Pesach

The Ivrim: Holding Time and Tension in Perfect Balance

This week, we mark our final days in Egypt. For generations, we have languished in slavery, served our masters from the narrow confines of our chains. We have built, heaved, sweat, and cried – bled, birthed, pushed, and died all in a land that is not our land, for a king who is not our king. Stifled, oppressed – this is our people’s story of alienation, of being the stranger.

But, this week, though our bodies are still ensnared, our eyes are set on revelatory fire. There is something new in the air. Freedom is coming. This week is the last week of our captivity. In these final days leading up to Pesach, we step into the project of our redemption – a seemingly unending march to the land of our promise.

There’s a paradox here. Every year we leave Mitzrayim, we leave Egypt, and every year we find ourselves back there again. Where was your Mitzrayim, your narrow place, last year? By what or by whom are you held captive this year? Back and forth – and forever in between.

This is the story, the very essence of our people. We live in tension, in movement. From the narrow confines of slavery, toward the land of our redemption – from the darkness of exile to the blinding light of revelation. Most of the time we are betwixt and between.

We are the the Hebrews, the Ivrim.  The word Ivrim comes from the root ayin, bet, resh, which means to cross over. The very name informs us that we are in constant motion, unending transformation, and enduring transition. We are named for this tension, this unending march toward a more just, a more righteous reality.

As Ivrim, we are called to move across borders and boundaries, across time and space – called to relive a collective past and a shared memory in every act of ritual, in every reading of text, and in every moment of prayer. We are an unending past and revelatory future – a collection of movements, words, and memories transmitted from the murky depths of creation passed down to us in the accents of our great-grandparents.

When I think about crossing boundaries, about breaking free from captivity, I think about my great-grandfather, Nathan Chanin. Nathan came to America at the turn of the century after serving an eight year sentence in Siberia for his revolutionary activities. He was a leader of the Jewish Labor movement, a prominent union organizer, and well-known educator.  He worked for the  Workmen’s Circle for over 15 years, serving as both the organization’s Education Director and Secretary General.

Nathan’s passion for the Yiddish language, his unceasing pursuit of justice, and his love of Yiddishkeit have flowed down through the generations of my family, spilling over into our religious, political, and cultural identities. It is at this time of year, this time of exodus, of liberation, and of transition, that I am most reminded of Nathan’s legacy.  Every Pesach, my family narrates, sings, and celebrates the story of our redemption in Yiddish. From the perfectly pronounced story of the four sons, each voiced by my mother and her siblings, to my broken and heavily accented four-questions — we speak a more just future into being through the language of our past.

In addition to the Yiddish of our past, my cousins and I add supplementary texts, prayers, and music to our family seder. Every year, we bring new words that have moved us, songs that have inspired us, and rituals that have transformed us. We bring in Leonard Baskin’s drawings from the CCAR’s Passover Haggadah and the ritual of Miriam’s Cup and the gender-inclusive language of The Open Door. Our Seder is two moments in time at once – multiple voices held together in perfect tension.

This blend of past and future, of Nathan’s secular Yiddishkeit with the current longings and passions of his great-grandchildren have taught me that perhaps freedom and redemption come not as the result of a long march or entering a promised land, but are cultivated and honed over time in our ability to move in and out of the boundaries and to live as Ivrim, in constant transformation.

At the end of his novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” James Baldwin imagines a moment of unending revelation and redemption that stands in perpetual tension. He writes:

“No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. One day they would compel the earth to heave upward and surrender the waiting dead. They sang where the darkness gathered, where the lion waited, where the fire cried and where blood ran down. They wandered in the valley forever, and they smote the rock forever. And the waters sprang perpetually, in the perpetual desert. They cried unto the Lord forever and lifted up their eyes forever. They were cast down forever, and the Lord lifted them up forever.”

Revelation, Baldwin says, happens in tension – in the unending march toward freedom.

As we embark once more from the confines of Mitzrayim, our narrow places, I would like to offer you the opportunity to fully embody the identity of the Ivrim, the boundary crosser. From Egypt to revelation, from the promised land to exile — we are blessed with the ability to find redemption and freedom in moments of unending tension.
May this blessing be available to each of us.

Hilly is a second-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in NYC. Originally from New York, Hilly has a Masters of Theological Study from Harvard Divinity School and has worked in temples from Boston to Boulder.  Hilly is also a rabbinic intern at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

News Passover Pesach

Dayenu: Enough is Enough

If the Passover seder had an anthem, my vote would be for Dayenu– the jubilant, infectious melody responsible for resuscitating seders everywhere, year in and year out.  Dayenu wakes us out of our seder stupors and inexplicably inspires all to join their voices in song: “Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu, Dayenu, Dayenu!!!”

Dayenu—it would have been enough had God only delivered us from slavery, but God did more.  Dayenu—it would have been enough had God only given us Shabbat, but God gave more.  Dayenu—it would have been enough had God only bestowed upon us Torah, but God bestowed more.

When I reflect on Dayenu today, I struggle, because I see not enough emphasis on “enough” and too much emphasis on “more.”  What does “Dayenu” mean in a world where bigger is (usually) better and more is (often) what we are looking for?  How do we understand Dayenu in a society that prizes conspicuous consumption and fetishizes acquisition in every medium imaginable?  When we are conditioned to believe that more stuff and more riches and more power will lead to a happier life, how do we even begin to set limits and embrace moderation? How do we adopt the idea of “Dayenu,” or “just enough” in a society that can never seem to get enough (accolades, money, power, status, etc.)?

And what does “enough” mean in a world where our children are asked to be everything to everyone–studious, sporty, intellectually curious, musical, artistic, socially conscious, tech savvy, and how about entrepreneurial?  We want them to master a sport (or two or three), a language (or two or three), an instrument (or two or three) and a hobby (or two or three).  But we also want them to be well mannered, concerned for others, deeply connected to their friends and community, and passionate (and if that passion can be parlayed into a career, even better).  We cannot bear to waste the potential we see in them; we cannot bear to have them miss out on any opportunities availed to them.  We desperately want the best for them and we want them to be their best.

But when and where in this scenario do we say “Dayenu”—he is doing enough or Dayenu, she has enough on her plate?  When do we say “Dayenu,” this schedule is woefully too busy for a young adult and much too hectic for a child?  At what point do we say, “Dayenu” too much of a good thing is not good?  On the other hand, what would it mean to accept that “enough” is enough?  To be smart enough, athletic enough, pretty enough, strong enough, quick enough, funny enough, popular enough, or good enough—what would it mean to say, that is perfect?  What would it mean to teach our children, when you look in the mirror and see the person reflected back at you, that person is “enough”- to succeed in life, to excel in friendships, to create a solid foundation, to be a happy person.  You are enough, period.

And what about ourselves? The expectations we have for ourselves and our families and our congregations often have very little grounding in reality.  What is good enough for others is simply not good enough for us.  “Enough” is not a standard bearer; “enough” is not worthy of praise.  “Enough” is not gasp-inducing or eye popping. Enough is just adequate.  It is merely satisfactory.  It meets the criteria but it does not surpass.  We don’t want enough; we want extraordinary.  And yet, Dayenu…

There is nothing wrong with reaching for the stars.  There is nothing wrong with pushing oneself to succeed and surpassing expectations. There is nothing wrong with perseverance and determination and high-octane drive.  We need that passion to accomplish all we set out to do.  We require that motivation to ignite the spark within our souls.  But we meet a breaking point when the pursuit surpasses the prize, when we find ourselves on a relentless path towards the next best thing-at all costs.

When do we stop and say, Dayenu?  This rung is high enough, this place is good enough and this pace is quick enough?  When do we acknowledge ourselves and our families and our careers and say, we are enough—enough to appreciate and to accept and to cherish and to love?  When do we say, enough is enough with always wanting more, with never being satisfied, with never giving ourselves the opportunity to savor the moment?  When do we say, with true conviction, Dayenu?

We can look back to our Torah for a little help in the matter, and a little inspiration.  When Moses called upon the Israelites to bring gifts towards the erecting of the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle, they responded with unbridled enthusiasm.  They brought and they brought and they brought some more.  Ultimately, Moses had to stop the flow of gifts; the people had brought too much; “their efforts had been more than enough for all the work to be done.”  (Exodus 36:7)  In this case, God only wanted enough, no more, no less, just enough.

God got it right with the Mishkan.  Passover gives us an opportunity to get it right with Dayenu.  This Passover, may we all go from strength to strength to…Dayenu.

Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin resides in New York City.  She most recently served Temple Israel of the City of New York.  Sara now volunteers as the CCAR RavBlog Member Volunteer.  Interested in writing something for RavBlog?  Learn more

Passover Pesach

Seder on the Dining Room Floor

Years ago, unplanned repair work on our house in early spring devastated our kitchen and dining room, ripped up our living room carpet, and threatened to destroy our plans for a comfortable, traditional Passover Seder. Add to it that more than half the guests were under 6 years old and could barely sit still long enough to dip the karpas in the salt water and we quickly realized that our Passover celebration needed to be creatively re-imagined.

We wondered: how were we going to make a Seder experience that taught our multi-generational gathering about the holiday’s central messages? That we journeyed from slavery to freedom, and that we must help others do the same. Sitting around a traditionally set table was just not in the cards.

We discovered that with creative and open minds, a willingness to merge tradition and innovation, and an accessible flexible Haggadah, an engaging Passover Seder can be had.

We threw borrowed gym mats over the living room concrete, placed Seder symbol-laden coffee tables around the room, and let the kids roll around while we told stories, read interesting tidbits from the Haggadah, and experienced the tactile sensations of the rituals. We realized that like for any other meaningful celebration – a birthday party, for example – the key to memorable success was to intermix food, family, songs and stories, ritual and readings in a meaningful way. We discovered that tradition and innovation needed to go hand and hand.

STJCoverWe also realized that our Seder needed a Haggadah that was filled rich and varied readings, colorful interpretations, easily accessible instructions, and enticing visualization from which we could sample. We have become enamored with Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family (written by Alan S. Yoffie, illustrations by Mark Podwal) published by the CCAR Press. This rabbi-approved Haggadah is as accessible and creative as our personally cut-and-pasted booklets of our younger years with a few fantastic differences: Adults and children alike always seem to discover age appropriate material that uplifts and inspires. Teens and college students appreciate its ability to challenge contemporary understandings, while the grandparents like that it has enough traditionalism to recall their Seders of old. We like the fact that we can use it both at one night’s creative and another evening’s more traditional sit down Seder.

Over the years our Seders have changed. Our guests still enjoy the unique touches that invite contemplation: the football on the Seder plate, (suggesting that just as the Angel passed over the Israelites, perhaps we need to ensure that we hit our intended moral target), and history books strewn around the room (sparking a great discussion of whether the Exodus is historical or not and whether that matters). We just schepp nachas (are bursting the pride) that to this day our kids, relatives and friends enjoy these longer and deeper annual opportunities to explore the abiding lessons of Passover.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. Paul also co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness.

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.


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.

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