A Jew and an Atheist Host a Seder

Hannah Cushing

Hannah Cushing

I know, I know. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, and a bad one at that. It’s not.

This past Monday evening, I had the honor of joining a good friend and his wife as they celebrated Pesach with their four year-old son. For those who don’t know, Pesach (Passover) is a holiday which celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery and their exodus from Egypt. The Seder is the ritual feast that marks the beginning of the seven day holiday.

For this year’s Seder, my friends invited a living room full of mostly Gentiles (non-Jews) to share in their feast.

As a self-proclaimed and occasional honorary Jew and a perpetual spiritual scavenger, joining in a Seder is a beautiful thing. I deeply love and respect the ceremony of Judaism as well as the tradition of pairing celebration with memory of suffering and deep reflection. Embedded in many Jewish ceremonies are opportunities for absolution and the seeds of new beginnings. But the Seder also centers around the importance of telling this particular spiritual history to the next generation and valuing and honoring the questions of the young.

“We step into the [Exodus] story because it is the story of all people who have experienced oppression.” – from A Night of Questions, a Haggadah,

For Jews and Gentiles alike, Pesach and the Seder call the thoughtful to consider their connection to others through recognizing oppression – past, present, and future. It invites us to recognize not only the suffering that we endure in order to be free but also the suffering that others may endure in order for us to be free, like the ten plagues brought by G*d upon the Egyptians that caused a broken Pharoah to order the Israelites to leave Egypt, a freedom rooted in fear, mourning, and reluctance.

The Seder calls the thoughtful to recognize that we are all both Jew and Egyptian, both the oppressed and oppressor, both deserving of forgiveness and wrath.

Teaching children to ask questions about their past is an important part of the Seder. Thus the Seder also teaches us approach oppression and our history with questions, regardless of whether those questions are answered with another question, a story, or a less than satisfactory answer. The tradition of the Seder urges us to not be satiated in our questioning.

Pesach reminds us that justice follows a long and winding path, a path that often circles and crosses itself. As Americans, this path has crossed in our own oppression of African Americans who historically often identified with the story of the Exodus as a story that was also their own.

Pesach is still the story of all who struggle to break the shackles imposed on them by a society who may limit their freedom, their movement, and their opportunities. It is the story of the upheaval that must sometimes take place at the cost of the oppressor in order for all of us to become more free.

My friends closed their Seder with this quotation.

We still believe, or many of us do, what the Exodus first taught, or what it has commonly been taken to teach, about the meaning and possibility of politics, and about its proper form:

first) that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt;

second) that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land; and

third) that “the way to the land is through the wilderness.” There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.

From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

This Pesach, whether you are Jewish or not, take some lessons from the Seder:

  • Be reflective without hesitation.
  • Ask questions about how you got to where you are and what consequences your journey may have had on others.
  • Examine the ways that your own liberation is intricately tied to the liberation of others.
  • Examine also the ways that your own liberation and power is intricately tied to the oppression of others.
  • Then, find your exodus.

3 thoughts on “A Jew and an Atheist Host a Seder

  1. Pingback: Shabbat Pesach service reading 2/2 | Stepping Toes

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