Passed Over Passovers – Pesach 5777

This year, I thought it might be interesting to revisit my writings from three different Passovers. Feel free to read them chronologically, although I recommend you read them in the order below, newest to oldest, since they follow a more interesting progression that way. You’ll understand why in the descriptions/excerpts. Chag Pesach sameach!

The Definition of Slavery (Passover 2015)

definition-of-slaveryWe say in the Haggadah “This year we are still slaves; next year, may we all be free.”  And I have often wondered what am I a slave to?  How am I in bondage?  What makes us slaves? Perhaps one answer is time. As much as I try to live each week fully, they fly by and the months are over so quickly. Read the rest.

On the Brink (Passover 2008)

on-the-brink-pesachWe stand here, on the brink of our own transition. We’ve cleaned out the chametz, cleaned out the clutter and dirt of our homes. We’ve made it 6 days out on the journey. Passover stands on the balance of rebirth and renewal, will we go back to our old ways, or will we take the leap of Nachshon Ben Ami Nadav? Read the rest.

This Year, Only in Jerusalem (Passover 2007)

only-in-jerusalemLast year I said “Next year in Jerusalem” and now, here I am! And to make it better, my Tanta and my sister are here with me! Finally, after seven months I see people related to me, people who love me unconditionally, I see my family. Read the rest.

The Definition of Slavery – Pesach 5775


Avadim Hayinu, Atah B’nei Chorin – Once we were slaves, strangers in a strange land, building pyramids, answering to a Pharaoh, oppressed, tired, hot. Now we are free.

Every year at the Passover seder, we sing this upbeat song.

Avadim Hayinu, Hayinu, atah benei chorin, bnei chorin.

(Slaves, we were, now, we are free people.)

But are we really free? And how do we know for sure?

As typically defined, a slave is “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another, or a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person.” And freedom is “exemption from external control, interference, and regulation.”

So based on these definitions, are you free? Are you free from external controls, from the influence and interference of others?

Passover is the holiday of freedom, the holiday during which we remember the exodus from Egypt.  Passover is the time when we remember our past, but on a personal level it’s a time for us to recognize who we are, and how far we have come from last year.  Here we are, halfway through another year. What does that mean?

Passover begins a period of counting.  We begin with the 8 days of the holiday, 8 days of matzah, 8 days of celebration.  Then we move on and continue counting 49 days until we arrive at Shavuot and the gift of the Torah.  And then we stop.  The rest of the year it’s so easy to lose track of time. I forget what day of the week it is, and before I know it, Shabbat is here again and I’m running around all over again the next week.  We often remark that a week “flew by,” but in reality, the week went by at the same pace it always does; it was still the same 7 individual 24-hour days. The week didn’t fly by; rather, we were too busy to take time and realize what was going on in the world around us. Why is it that for the next 50 days we are so aware of ourselves and the days?

We say in the Haggadah “This year we are still slaves; next year, may we all be free.”  And I have often wondered what am I a slave to?  How am I in bondage?  What makes us slaves?  Perhaps one answer is time. As much as I try to live each week fully, they fly by and the months are over so quickly. Sometimes I can barely remember as far back as two days ago.

Part of the challenge of Passover is knowing that next year we will reach the same point, but not knowing what will come in between, and worse yet, how we’ll fit it all in.  All we can do is strive to be more aware of every day, not just those that we count after Passover.  This year, as we count the days, weeks and months, may it be with anticipation of what is to come in the world. And may this year bring with it more freedom to enjoy those in-between moments that go uncounted. This year, we are still slaves to ourselves, to our work, to time; next year may we be free.

Experiencing Freedom – Pesach 5775


Passover seder in my family is the event of the year.  For as long as I can remember we would start preparing for the seder well before Purim, not for the cleaning, cooking or purchasing, but for the games, activities, discussions and parody songs that would be created for the seder that year.  As three generations of our family sat together, we ate the same foods, told the same story, read the same Haggadah and responsive readings every year, but the conversations changed and the excitement always grew each year.  

Around the world, Passover is the most observed holiday on the Jewish calendar.  While not all Jews observe the laws of Passover to the same extent, the narrative of our people lives on through this holiday.  Every family has their own tradition that connects to Passover.  And, the experiential nature of the Seder lends itself to the enjoyment and understanding of young and old alike.  

The holiday of Pesach is often spoken about in Jewish education circles as the initial example of experiential education.   Coming before we had summer camps and youth groups to depend on to give our students an experience, the seder provides all of the essential elements to an educational experience.  It begins with the lesson plan, the 15 steps that let the learner know what will be covered during the “lesson.”  The Torah clearly gives us our educational objective – the SWBAT (by the end of the lesson, “Students Will Be Able To”) – in Shemot, chapter 13, verse 8, when it tells us that we are to tell our children on this day that it is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt.  And so, we set out on this journey with the understanding that the seder is supposed to in some way explain to us and make us feel the connection with our ancestors in Egypt and the power of faith in God that brings us to each Pesach.

It is from this love that I offer the following suggestions to liven up the experience of your seder.  They have been compiled from many years of trying to please an audience from 3 years old to 85 years old.

1. Make a large poster board that lists the order of the seder on it and move the arrow down after each time you complete a step.  This way, no one has to ask when dinner is.
2. Instead of waiting to serve the meal at Shulchan Orech, offer a salad course, or dip like guacamole after the karpas so your guests’ tummies don’t start to rumble.
3. Pre-assign parts to your seder guests, asking each family to write their own meditation on a step of the seder to be shared that night.
4. Have your guests come in costumes; whether they dress as Egyptians, Israelites, or the 10 plagues, you’re sure to have a fun time.  Or, hold your seder in the family room so that you can really recline!
5. Create a mini seder plate for each guest.
6. When you reach the 10 plagues, instead of just reading through them, play 10 plague charades and have seder participants act out the plagues and other participants guess which plague it is.
7. Make your own Passover themed game to entertain guests after desert before finishing the Seder.  Apples to Charoset is my favorite, a take on Apples to Apples.  You can also play Passover trivia in the name of “Who Wants to be a Minyannaire,” “Wheel of Freedom,” “Pyramid,” or the ever popular “Jewpardy.”    Feel free to tweet me for any these games – they are our family’s creation!
8. If you have many seder guests over 21, have each of them bring a bottle of kosher for Passover wine to share and do a wine tasting with each glass.
9. Passover marks the freedom of the Israelites.  One sign of freedom is the ability to ask questions.  The sage Hillel used to put unexpected items on his seder table to provoke question asking.
10. The seder has many numbers associated with it: 3 matzot, 4 cups of wine, 4 sons.  For each pairing, see if you can come up with your own dedication for each one with relation to what it symbolizes.

Hag Pesach Kasher V’sameach, may this be a holiday of joy and rebirth for each of us.  

photo credit: Plague finger puppets. Win! via photopin (license)

On the Brink – Pesach 5768


Here is the d’var Torah I gave on Friday night at my shul in Farmington Hills, MI. 

Picture this: you’re tired, your feet hurt from standing, walking, waiting. You rushed to get all the cooking done, exhaustion begins to take over, the journey is beginning. For some of you, this might sound like I’m talking about last Friday as you rushed to finish up the preparation for Passover. As tradition has it, tonight, the end of the sixth, beginning of the seventh day of Pesach is the time when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. After years of hard labor in Egypt, 6 days of walking, they finally reached the point of transition. A plethora of possibilities are before the Israelites, but this is only the beginning.

Tomorrow we read from Parshat Beshalach, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. This parshah comes on the brink of freedom and the edge of slavery. The Israelites, on their journey, have the ultimate GPS system, a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. Through these symbols, God is visibly present for the Israelites, to lead them on their journey.

As the Israelites travel, moving farther away from slavery and closer to freedom, they arrive at the Sea of Reeds, their first obstacle of freedom. If they turn around, the Egyptians, who are in hot pursuit, will capture them and they will return to slavery. If they attempt to cross the sea, they might drown. They stand, awaiting transition, paused in a moment of decision. What to do? The Midrash tells us that Nachshon Ben Ami-Nadav takes a risk, he steps into the water, moves forward, and just as the waters’ depths are nearly over his head, the sea parts, and dry land appears for the Israelites to cross.

Seeing this miracle, the Israelites begin to sing, the Song of the Sea, praising God as their strength, their warrior, the ultimate being.

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה

“The Lord is my strength and song, He has become my salvation.”

What respect and awe the Israelites exhibit to God in this song! They are grateful, amazed, dancing, and singing. And yet, they cross the sea, arrive safely, having seen the Egyptians swallowed up by the waters, and they begin to complain.They want food, water. They want to go back to Egypt, where life wasn’t so hard, where food was easy to come by. Sound familiar? How many of us are waiting anxiously for the end of Passover, for that piece of bread? How many of us complained about the cleaning the preparation?

In Parshat Beshalach, the Israelites experience a continuum of emotions; fear, gratitude, excitement, disappointment, awe, dread, discomfort, and joy. It is a lot to take in for a people so new to freedom. Parshat Beshalach is about finding the balance between these emotions on our journey throughout life.

We stand here, on the brink of our own transition. We’ve cleaned out the chametz, cleaned out the clutter and dirt of our homes. We’ve made it 6 days out on the journey. Passover stands on the balance of rebirth and renewal, will we go back to our old ways, or will we take the leap of Nachshon Ben Ami Nadav? Will we follow the pillar of fire, the light of Torah as we embark on our journey towards Shavuot and Matan Torah? We’ve come far on the journey, 6 days done, we’ve almost made it across the point of no return. Here we stand at the edge of Passover, we’ve done the hard work, how will we emerge?

As Passover comes to an end, as we cross the Sea of Reeds and embrace the freedom that comes with it, may we experience this transition, as not, running way from what was, but running towards what will be. May we be blessed on this journey with foresight. As we enter this Shabbat of transition, may we find ourselves surrounded by the warmth of the pillar of Fire that is Torah, may we be blessed with the strength to follow the sometimes challenging path that leads towards the future.

Shabbat shalom!