Passover: A Celebration and Exploration of Liberation

Posted on: April 10th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The oldest Sephardic haggadah featuring the prayer: This is the poor bread our ancestors ate in Mitzrayim. Let all who are oppressed, come and feast with us. Let all who are in need, join the Passover Seder!

The ritual book used for Passover, the haggadah or the telling, starts off with a call: “Let all who are hungry, come eat. Let all who are oppressed come join the Passover celebration!” Since this is the night of telling there is a presumption that the community will hear from ‘all those who are oppressed.’ Hearing voices of people on the front lines of struggle against systems of violence is the narrative of Passover. Assessing how each of us unconsciously or consciously participates in or resists structures of oppression is key to observing Passover – the oldest and most beloved Jewish holy day.

For Jewish people concerned with our collective relationship to the State of Israel, history has transformed the context in which we tell the Jewish liberation story and radically reshaped our questions. For example, the last line of the haggadah, “Next year in Jerusalem!” has caused members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to consider this phrase from the perspective of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. From a Palestinian point of view, “Next year in Jerusalem” is experienced as Israel’s occupation policies of forced displacement from Jerusalem as new Jewish settlers take over former Palestinian villages and land. The State of Israel’s dispossession policies toward Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem encompass land appropriation, discriminatory planning policies, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, the denial of citizenship to Palestinian East Jerusalem residents, home demolition, settler vandalism and harassment, and the use of Jewish historical claims to take land.

This year, as many Jews break the matzah in two, and hide one until the meal is through, we will be contemplating next steps as solidarity partners in the Palestinian freedom struggle. Those of us associated with JVP and the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence will continue to honor the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Working together, we can transform despair into hope and oppression into liberation. Next year, a liberated Jerusalem. Dayenu.

Syrian Charoset for Passover from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Charoset is a symbolic food that has two meanings (like all the symbols). On the one hand, it represents the mortar Israelites were forced to use in Pharaoh’s building projects. On the other hand, it represents the fruits of the garden of Eden associated with liberation and delight. This charoset recipe is from the Brooklyn Syrian Jewish household of Stephanie Cohen.

  • 3 pounds dates
  • Water
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate extract (my addition) or sweet wine
  • Teaspoon of ground cinnamon (mixed with a pinch of cardamom and allspice)
  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Put dates in large saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until dates are very soft (30-45 minutes). Date skins will separate from the flesh of the fruit, and the boiling liquid becomes thick and syrupy. Mash everything up. Add other ingredients. Chill until ready to serve. Eat with matzah and bitter herb.

Hag Sameakh, a joyous Passover season to you!
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