Inspiration and obligation beyond the Seder


Fran Ostendorf, EditorThe Passover story that we read year after year is an inspirational tale. I was reminded last week that it’s one we should really listen to and not just repeat as if by rote, trying to stay awake until the fish is served. That started me thinking about the various themes, but there’s one that I really want to focus on this year.

Social justice.

The Passover story is one chock-full of social justice issues. Hunger. Homelessness. Oppression. Discrimination. Redemption. We were slaves in Egypt. We wandered–  homeless – in the wilderness for 40 years. We had limited food. And in the end, we came out all right.

Now, I admit that’s a bit of an oversimplification. But my thought is that all these recurring themes point to issues that still challenge our society today. And at this time of year, and year-round, we should consider how we are going to help ensure that what happened so long ago doesn’t keep going on and on. Seen in the context of the Passover story, it’s an obligation that we each do our part to help repair the world.

Many families have added modern touches to their Seder in an effort to drive home these social justice issues. There are four questions with a modern twist. There are updated versions of the 10 plagues. Many families add an orange or a potato to the Seder plate to symbolize more inclusion. A simple Internet search brings up many more ideas. It’s not difficult to find ways to bring today’s issues into your Passover celebration. Perhaps next year, your family will want to update your Seder traditions.

But after the Seder, the challenge and the inspiration remains. There is hunger and homelessness in our community. Oppression exists in our backyard. Discrimination and victims are here as well. What are we going to do to help with these social justice issues? How are we going to practice tikkun olam? How are we going to work to help repair the world?

The range of contribution can be as varied as the contributor. You don’t have to be wealthy to contribute. Working on social justice issues can mean giving of your time. Sure, financial contributions are always welcomed, but time is precious to so many causes. And don’t forget donations of the treasures you don’t need or want anymore. Many of us have enough to share with those who don’t.

What is your passion? There are many worthy causes.

Are you interested in advocacy? Work with an advocacy agency. Attend meetings. Go to rallies. Follow legislation at the local, state and national levels. Write letters to your congressional delegation, to your local newspaper, to The Jewish Voice.

Do you have a garden? Perhaps the fruits of your labors that prove to be more than your family will use can help feed the hungry. This is a perfect way to involve the entire family.

Are you involved with your synagogue? Many congregations offer opportunities to prepare food for soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Some have special collections of clothing that is then donated to those who need it most. Many have holiday food collections that go right to a food bank.

Turn on your computer and search for opportunities. You can donate to many causes in our community and around the world with a couple of clicks.

I hope we will all take inspiration from the season. I know I plan to make a renewed effort to pay more attention and focus some of what little free time I have this year toward repairing the world. Let us know what you’re doing.