MARCH 22, 2018 – Spring arrived with more snow this week, and even as we shovel out paths and driveways, some of us are lifted just knowing that Passover will begin next week. The two Seders will be held after sundown on Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31. While Jewish affiliation and identity has fallen off in recent years, Pesach seems more popular than ever.
Jews have come a long way since the first Seder was held more than 3,200 years ago during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. A religious service was added to the meal around the 7th Century BC, and our ancestors began to hold Seders at home during Roman times around 2000 years ago.
The holiday, which commemorates freedom from slavery still resonates with Jews, and many non-Jews who also attend Seders. According to a 2013 Pew Research survey of Jewish Americans, attending a Seder is still a major priority for most American Jews. While just 23 percent of US Jews said they attend religious services at least once a month, 70 percent say they participate in a Seder. According to the survey, that includes 42 percent of Jews of no religion (those who consider themselves Jewish in some way, were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent, but say they are atheist or agnostic or have no particular religion.)
The same Pew study reported that participation in a Passover Seder is the most common holiday observance among Jewish Americans. It’s more popular than fasting for all or part of Yom Kippur (53 percent) – often considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – and lighting Sabbath candles (23 percent).
The ideal of freedom is at the center of the holiday. And, unless you’re preparing the meal – which can be an exercise in restraint – there’s very little expected of guests. There are two Torah commandments: telling the story of the Exodus, and eating matzah. Five others are rabbinical: eating Marror, or bitter herbs, eating the Afikomen, reciting Hallel, or Psalms of praise, drinking four cups of wine, and demonstrating acts of freedom – such as sitting with a pillow cushion and leaning as we eat and drink.
So next week, take a break from social media, and breaking political news, and relax and think about freedom – all the privileges we have been given – and raise a glass to a period that future historians will note as a Golden Era in Jewish history. Let’s appreciate the moment, and the freedom that we have. And if you have an extra seat at your Seder table, invite someone who has nowhere else to go. That person also, no doubt, seeks a taste of freedom as well.