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Progressive Judaism Pesach message

By Rabbi Anna Wolfson and Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen

“In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.”

As we each return to the Seder table this year, this line of liturgy from the Haggadah may resonate more strongly.

The Seder table is a powerful space and, perhaps, one of our most beloved rituals. It infuses food with story, links the young to the old, the public story of the Jewish people to our own personal family stories and customs.

In the last few years. we have navigated small Sedarim when lockdown restrictions meant we could not open our homes even to our closest family and friends. Many of us will be returning to the Seder table with a seat empty for our loved ones who have passed away in the last year.

Even more than Rosh Hashanah, the Seder marks time in a unique way. ‘In every generation’ – we recognise that although time moves on and we can mark out the differences from last year to this, time also spirals on top of itself and we return anew to similarly resonate themes of slavery and liberation, of fear and exile, of community and ritual. The cycle of history keeps turning.

This year, of course, the questions we usually ask such as, ‘in what ways are we enslaved this year?’, will feel particularly painful. Perhaps it feels impossible to imagine that we have even left Egypt given the state of our world as it stands. If our hostages remain captive (please God may it not be so) a new ritual object will appear on our Sedarim tables marking the continued captivity of so many of our Jewish kin.

When we dip our finger into the kiddush wine for the 10 plagues and the recognition of blood spilt, we imagine tears will also fall around our tables, across the world. Each drop of wine on our finger is a reminder that our Torah implores that we do not celebrate human suffering, even of our enemy.

Sedarim tables, if yours are anything like ours, will be full of reflection and heated discussion. Perhaps this year there will be a variety of opinions about the actions of Netanyahu and his government, about the political solutions, about the extent to which it feels safe to be a Jew in Britain. Weighty topics. Strong opinions. Part of our reflection may be on how polarised conversations around Israel and Gaza have become, in workplaces, in the media, in our shuls.

Yet, we come back, once again to b’chol dor va’dor – “in every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.”

Given the fragility of our Jewish world it is more important than ever that we take this commandment fully on board and step into our empathetic selves.

We weep for those held captive, those families bereaved, those chairs empty around the Seder tables. We listen to the fears and thoughts of our family members, particularly our young people.

We hear their experiences, their opinions on the world as they see it. We see ourselves as though we are them.

As chutzpahdik as it is, we might even imagine that we are newly liberated and commit ourselves to working towards a world full of empathy, peace and freedom.

Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen is Co-Chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors. Rabbi Anna Wolfson is Co-Chair of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors.

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