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Shoes by the Door

IJC’s Pesach Seder 5783 started with a quiet moment of reflection. Our Seder is full of ancient and more recent rituals, but this year we started by placing a pair of shoes at the door to the synagogue in a ritual borrowed from the HIAS Haggadah. It reminds us that we all have a refugee story and that we have all filled the shoes of the refugee. Yet in spite of years of relative stability for our people, our broken world continues to produce refugees. At Seder, when we remember our liberation, we remember also those who are not free.

Close to 70 participants, young and not so young, regulars and visitors, shared the story of our liberation from slavery in Egypt and reflected on our own contemporary slaveries. We remembered those who have lived with exclusion - and sometimes even cancellation from within our Jewish community - with the orange on our Seder plate and reflected on its many interpretations. We also turned our attention to the olives on our Seder table. This time last year we were traumatized by Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine. Olives were introduced to our Seder as a symbol of peace, the traditional olive branch, in the hope that peace would prevail, but one year later this aggression has not abated and we still need to remember and support our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. The Seder is about hope. Peace will come. Let it be soon.

Since adults were in the majority – although there were enough youngsters around to cause havoc searching for the Afikomen – one of the highlights of our fun and inclusive celebration was The Four Parents – parallel to the more familiar Four Children. Here’s an excerpt:

The Wise Parent is an utter bore.

“Listen closely, because you are younger than I am,” says the Wise Parent, “and I will go on and on about Jewish history, based on some foggy memories of my own religious upbringing, as well as an article in a Jewish journal I have recently skimmed.” The Wise Parent must be faced with a small smile of dim interest.

The Wicked Parent tries to cram the story of our liberation into a set of narrow opinions about the world. “The Lord led us out of Egypt,” the Wicked Parent says, “which is why I support a bloodthirsty foreign policy and am tired of certain types of people causing problems.”

The Wicked Parent should be told in a firm voice, “With a strong hand God rescued the Jews from bondage, but it was my own clumsy hand that spilled hot soup in your lap.”

The Simple Parent does not grasp the concept of freedom. “There will be no macaroons until you eat all of your brisket,” says the Simple Parent, at a dinner honoring the liberation of oppressed peoples. “Also, stop slouching at the table.”

In answer to such statements, the Wise Child will roll their eyes in the direction of the ceiling and declare, “Let my people go!”

The Parent Who Is Unable to Inquire has had too much wine, and should be excused from the table.

(Lemony Snicket – New American Haggadah)

And as one participant pointed out, it was unusual to have such an engaged group of participants after dinner. People tend to drift off home, satisfied after a delicious meal and several glasses of wine, but this year the post dinner singing was even livelier than before dinner. Perhaps the addition at the Seder table of our energetic kitchen volunteers had something to do with it? Big shout out to Sarah S., Chantal and Klio for creating such a delicious meal.

And before we forget – and we could be forgiven for forgetting after all the hustle and bustle of the Seder – our Jewish year moves on. We start to prepare for our next major festival, Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah. Some sources say we count the Omer because God told us to, others that our liberation is not complete until we receive the Torah at Shavuot, other still that it helps maintain our excitement in bringing Torah into our lives.

For many, myself included, however, the meditative repetition of the Omer counting supports my own mindfulness when distractions are everywhere. There are plenty of apps and sites that help us count the Omer, and it’s even possible to have notifications on your mobile to remind you when it is time to count. Here’s the app I will be using this year: The Omer: A Counting, created by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (available for a few euros in your App Store – I don’t get a cut). And if you prefer the steam-driven version you can stick to the fridge try here:

Normally we should start counting the Omer on the second night of Pesach, but whenever you start I hope the Omer counting will help focus your mind and spirit and refresh your life with words of wisdom.

Rabbi Brian Doyle-Du Breuil

Photos: Member Julia Poger in reflective mood while Board member Peter Goldfein shows us the spring onions we brandish when singing Dayenu...



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