Over thirty AARC members, family, and friends gathered in Rav Michal and Jon Sweeney’s living room, adding chairs several times as we evidently fulfilled the tradition of cramming as many bodies into a space as possible. Our second seder focused on the questions and the questioners: questions that are traditionally asked, questions we could ask, and why we ask. After the seder, I asked several people to comment on the meaningful moments for them.
On our name tags we included a self-descriptive word about what kind of child we were or are. Allison Stupka said, “It was so interesting to hear what kind of children people thought they were. I did not know many of the people I was sitting at the table with, and got to know them through interesting conversation.” Our questions led us to think about why we retell the same story year after year of the Israelites’ slavery and flight to freedom. We asked about transformations in how we tell–and how we hear–the story to give it contemporary meaning. Ellen Dannin said, “Our seder found us struggling with issues of slavery and freedom, of how to build and keep a just society, and of why year after year we should tell our children the story of Passover.”
We talked about contemporary situations of both slavery and injustice, the difference and similarities between the physical bondage of Africans in our country’s first 200 years and the low-waged jobs of people who supply so many of the products we use and depend upon. Martha Kransdorf said, “During the seder, I was struck by questions that drew parallels between the enslavement the Israelites experienced, and the experiences of Palestinians today.” One of our seder’s guests was Laurie White’s roommate, Manal, a Palestinian from Nazareth who is here at the University of Michigan on a yearlong Fulbright. “I appreciated the warm welcome Manal received at her first seder ever, despite years of doing Palestinian-Jewish dialogue work in Israel,” Laurie said.
Rav Michel also gave us a lot to chew on when she suggested that often we have thought of contemporary “plagues” as being the ugly aspects of our society such as racism, sexism, etc. But in the Exodus story, the plagues were decrees of God that challenged the power of the Pharoah. In this light, could contemporary “plagues” (that challenge military/industrial/corporate power) be more like unions, renewal energy and self-sufficient communities? An interesting turn! As Danny Steinmetz said of our second night seder, “Got me thinking about the incredible popularity of the seder and that rituals work best that are designed ground up to teach and to provoke curiosity.”
The potluck food was plentiful and scrumptious. And for those who wonder about my recipe for vegetarian stuffed cabbage, keep posted! Thanks to Rav Michal, Jon, and Sima for hosting our large group, and to Ellen Dannin for help in putting together our ritual.