And Gd willing, it will be the last!
Had to dust off a few gears in order to write this post. Barring the (in-person!) Adas Israel Purim funhouse, I haven’t been attending many happenings in the Jewish DC community. It’s been months since I’ve “gone” to any Zoom events, like at all! But when Sixth & I touted a class on sprucing up Passover Seder conversation, which took place a little over a week ago, I couldn’t resist.
It was robust and fun, as well as being informative. The five main presenters, as moderated by Senior Rabbi Shira Stutman, were obviously part of a tight-knit group with several of the 30ish people in attendance. Conversation bloomed through the video and in the chat. Certainly one of the most intrinsic examples I’ve found of community continuing to proliferate in this pandemically mandated virtual space. And I gotta say: as much as I appreciated the presenter who had the parting of the Red Sea as his Zoom background, my heart went pitter patter over another one whose cats were present and lounging in a cat tree. 😛
These five speakers, aided by their Power Point presentations, were compelling and well-spoken, too. They covered such topics as The Four Questions (and the always-active argument about what those four children represent,) the song “Dayenu” (and what is enough, or is it enough, in the Passover story and in our current reality,) and the phrase “L’shana haba’ah Yerushalayim,” or “next year in Jerusalem” (and how to reconcile that with complicated feelings about the modern state of Israel, or if the phrase has to be literal at all.)
The topic that has stuck in my mind the most regards violence in the Passover story. Specifically, this discussion started by describing the Shfoch Hamatcha prayer. This is traditionally recited before opening the door to Elijah the Prophet near the end of the Seder (that being one of my favorite parts because the melody is so pretty. And because opening the door and singing out to the world reminds me that Jews are doing this everywhere, too.) But anywho, the prayer actually asks for Gd to “pour out thy wrath” on our enemies, eeesh.
My own thoughts gravitated towards the idea of vengeance, which is actually something I’ve been grappling with more when it came to the last majorish Jewish holiday, Purim. Purim is pretty standard when it comes to Jewish history; the Persian version of “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” But we talk less about this fact: once the bad guy, the one who wanted to commit genocide against the Jews, was executed, the people didn’t stop there. Megillat Esther maintains that they went on a killing spree against non-Jews. Vengeance is quite obviously a theme here.
The violence in the Passover story is different. First of all, these acts performed by Gd (who is totally absent from the Purim story.) But more importantly, the violence therein can largely be chalked up to self-defense. Gd closed the Red Sea over the advancing Egyptian army, lest the Israelites be dragged back into bondage. Then Gd commands said Israelites to not celebrate their deaths, since the Egyptians were still people, after all.
It’s just something I’ve been thinking about, and I’m glad the Seder gives space to grapple with these issues. Purim, in contrast, has a bit of a carnival air, and it can be difficult to take an introspective moment. (In terms of drunkenness, Purim=very drunk, and Passover=slightly buzzed. :P) Anywho, I’m very grateful to the Sixth & I class. Passover is now less than a week away, giving me limited time to perhaps hash out my own talking points on Hagaddot.com for my first Seder night (and second will be spent, virtually, with Adas!)
For DC (and worldwide) mishpacha: also check out the Gather the Jews Passover guide for upcoming events and other ways to commemorate the holiday. Chag sameach, and Next Year Without Covid!