As you all know, throughout the country last Saturday students and adults participated in March For Our Lives. Following our Shabbat service, I walked over to the Great Neck side of town; where a rally took place at Ielpi Park. Our synagogue was mentioned as a supporter of this rally; I did not speak but stood alongside many of the community leaders in attendance (including state Comptroller DiNapoli). Highlighting the rally were comments from present and past High School students. Although certainly our local gathering was modest compared to the marches in Washington and New York, it was important for the local community to make a statement about the safety of our children. As a parent of four children – including one presently in the school system – I am passionate about gun legislation. As our local rally demonstrated; the subject is not limited to one political party or to one ideology. Protecting our students is tantamount to protecting our freedoms.
This weekend we will celebrate a holiday in which freedom is the central theme. The cherished value of freedom is not a value limited to the Jewish people. On Passover, we express our hope for a safe Jewish people and a safe Israel; yet we also express a universal hope for all people to live in freedom and in peace. There can be no freedom or peace as long as our children cannot attend school without looking over their shoulders; wondering if and when someone will point a gun in their direction. The surviving students from Parkland, along with students from throughout America; are pressing our legislators to pay more attention to our children than to the organizations which fund their campaigns (Democrats and Republicans). Where we adults for decades have been unsuccessful in moving Washington officials; perhaps our students will succeed. As I celebrate Passover, grateful for my forebears who struggled so I that I could identify as a proud Jew; I celebrate with the hope that our nation’s future will be blessed by an environment in which everyone feels safe, free to live without fear.
Last week I taped my annual Passover message for Public Access TV. Although the recording is not yet available (for Nassau residents, the message will be broadcast throughout Passover on channel 20 ), the following is a transcript of that message. It includes my thoughts about gun legislation and the initiative of our young students. Again, my words reflect Jewish tradition and are not intended to reflect any partisan, political thinking.
One recurring theme I often share with my students is the power of symbolism. Potent symbols can inspire us and can also enrich our lives.
Passover is a celebration marked by special symbols and symbolic acts.
The Seder itself, is characterized by symbolism. Our Seder was never intended to focus primarily on a meal; sumptuous meals and feasts we can enjoy all year round!
For Passover however, we do not thoroughly clean our homes, schlepp boxes up and down the stairs, shop, change dishes and cook with such intensity just to prepare another, elaborate dinner. The Seder is more about identifying with our past and expressing gratitude for the present.
Each item on the Seder plate reflects such thinking:
Our matzah represents the high cost of freedom…
The bitter herb reminds us about the realities of oppression…
The karpas is associated with spring; time of renewal and hope…
The charoset (reflecting the mortar and brick used to build Pharaoh’s cities ) directs us to think about the evils of slave labor and about the potential, abusive nature of power.
These four, symbolic foods are not intended to satisfy our appetites. Rather, they stir our hearts and souls.Through whatever Jewish path we chose (individual and collective), we discover in each symbol a key to drawing us closer to Jewish communities of yesterday and today.
The Seder consequently, is one occasion when the symbols take precedence over the meal; when meaning transcends personal pleasure.
The symbolic gesture of eating a dry, mostly tasteless piece of matzah links us to any Jew, who has endured anti-Jewish abuse or hatred throughout our history. The bitter herb calls attention to bitter times when Jewish laughter and celebration were either suppressed or silenced.
Although Passover is primarily an occasion to focus on the Jewish people, our symbols and symbolic acts during the Seder can have some more global, transformative power. Through our rich Passover symbols, we can apply the values of freedom and activism to the world at large.
Through our symbols. Judaism has always addressed vital subjects beyond the scope of one religion.
By the time you hear these words, the March For Our Lives will have already taken place. The March was initiated by student organizers, in solidarity with the students from Parkland. March For Our Lives will hopefully make an impact on our country’s gun control legislation.
But, on March 14, ten days before March For Our Lives, many of our young students throughout America initiated a more modest and symbolic expression of activism: exiting their classrooms in memory of the students from Parkland.
That initial walkout would not of itself motivate Congress (unfortunately) into creating meaningful gun legislation.
Nor would one, brief walkout stir a nation of adults to wake up and to protect our children from the guns which have killed too many children in the past. Yet, the symbolism behind the brief, yet powerful solidarity walkout speaks volumes about tikkun olam ; the world our teenagers want to repair. Our young people are beginning to express their outrage over an agonizing reality far more consequential than the mundane matters of their social lives. Our students are taking their initial steps toward making their presence felt as citizens of the United States and as the generation preparing to take an active role in shaping our country’s future. They made a statement about life not merely being about creature comforts or about building impressive college resumes. They are expressing their voices publicly and emphatically; suggesting that freedom means little if each day they must live in fear, wondering when and if our legislators will have the courage to act.
Aside from the association of the Seder plate with Jewish history and Jewish living, this year I would like to also dedicate our Seder plate to ideals established by our students throughout America.
May the Matzah represent our haste in moving forward to protect the children of our nation.
May the bitter herb constantly remind us about the unspeakable tragedies endured by all parents who have lost children to gun violence.
And, may the karpas represent the spring of hope; a new age in which our children can grow up in a true environment of freedom; without having to walk through school doors uncertain about their safety.
We celebrate Passover by cherishing both our liberation from Egypt and our formation as a Jewish people. This year, I hope we also remain vigilant about cherishing and preserving the freedoms we continuously pursue: to live-without fear – in security and peace. I hope we pursue freedom and peace, so that we can live with a quality of life we so richly deserve.
Whatever your holiday greeting:
Tizku l’shaneem rabot!
I wish for you a meaningful and fulfilling Passover holiday!
Photo credit: licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License: Fibonacci Blue: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibonacciblue/38869261050