Rabbi's Message: April 2014

Rachel Gurevitz
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

From the Rabbi’s Study – Welcoming the Stranger to your Passover Seder- the bigger lesson

As we approach the festival of Passover, our tradition reminds us, “let all who are hungry come and eat!” We live in an age where many of the ways we practice our faith are regarded as matters of choice. Reform Judaism established an alternative to the traditional conception of Jewish laws as obligations. Instead, Reform Judaism offered a way of making the practice of Judaism less rote and more meaningful when individuals made “informed choices” about what aspects of Jewish practice truly enriched the spiritual and ethical life. In so many ways, this approach to Jewish living has served us well - it has provided a way for so many Jews to maintain a deep connection to communities and traditions in ways that can be fully integrated into a modern, American life. But there are times when thinking about some of the wise teachings of our tradition as “obligation” can help us truly experience the essence of a practice. Take, for example, the celebration of Passover. For some, it has become an occasion for a family meal - another kind of “Thanksgiving,” except with stranger foods. But without looking at and discussing some of the content of the Haggadah—the ritual service that comes before and after the festive meal - we could so easily miss one of the central directives of the holiday - “let all who are hungry come and eat!” As Reform Jews, how might we act on this instruction with a sense of obligation? Here are some suggestions:

Have a conversation during your Seder about a way this holiday will cause you to literally feed the hungry. It might be choosing a charity to donate to, and writing the check or going online that very night. Mazon is a Jewish charity that distributes food to those in need. Rachel’s Table is a Jewish-run charity supported by our Federation in Worcester. Or, if you have the conversation before Passover begins, perhaps your family might empty out your shelves of all chametz - the grain-based foods in your house - to donate to a local food pantry in your town. In addition to physical hunger, there is also spiritual hunger. Is there someone you know who doesn’t belong to the congregation that you might invite to your Seder as a way of sharing the joy of Judaism with them? Perhaps you might introduce them to one or two other families to help them feel more connected to a sense of Jewish community. You might be the doorway to a more meaningful spiritual life for someone else. “Strangers” are just friends you haven’t met yet. When Judaism asks us to “welcome the stranger,” it’s not just because its nice to be warm and welcoming. It’s because our spiritual tradition recognized that relationships are made by stretching ourselves beyond the familiar and the comfortable, and communities become more authentically “real” when we make every effort to make friends with the strangers who are in our midst. If you have children, ask them if there are one or two children in their grade at Religious School that they’d like to invite for Seder and reach out to those families. Or let me know by dropping me an e-mail if you have room at your table for one or more families, or are seeking a Seder to attend. We’ll do our best to help everyone find a match. Our Congregational Ambassadors will also be doing some checking in the lead-up to Passover and may be able to help you with this too.

Let’s take the obligations of Passover seriously - they have so much to teach us, and so much to offer us. Let this be a truly meaningful Passover for all who seek it.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz