One of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays is the festival of Passover, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In recent years, many churches also host a celebration of a Seder Passover meal.
In the U.S., Passover occurs in the springtime, when the trees begin to bud and the sap begins to flow. But I have often wondered what it might be like to celebrate Passover in Australia just as fall is beginning.
I am sure it feels normal to the Australian Jewish community but I think I would find it a bit disorienting.
The Jewish calendar, created 2,000 years ago, is complex, and beautifully interweaves natural, historical and existential themes.
Many Jewish holidays have clear connections to the cycle of the year as experienced through the lens of a largely agricultural people.
We celebrate the succession of harvests, the hoped-for coming of winter rains and summer dew, trees beginning to blossom and fruits ripening. But most Jewish holidays are also linked to historical experiences - the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Mount Sinai, the wandering in the wilderness, the Temple’s destruction, and the Jewish triumph over genocidal enemies.
And finally, there are observances that are largely existential - about life and death, sin and forgiveness - historically rooted but connected less to a specific event or period than to the recurrent needs of humans for awareness of our existential condition, for introspection, for hope.
These are the three strands, but all are woven together.
The natural, the historical and the existential are not three separate domains. They connect to create a full human life and a world capable of being made sacred.
The historical event of Passover when the Israelites were finally freed from Egypt carries a profound, existential meaning for today.
The command of the Seder night, when Jewish people celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery, is that we feel personally as if we were liberated from bondage.
The historical must be made present. And nature itself, in the form of the foods that we eat and the drink that we drink, is enlisted to aid in this task.
What each person takes away from this meeting of nature, history and our current lives likely will differ from person to person - perhaps a heightened sense of identification with all of those who are enslaved and oppressed throughout the world, or perhaps a feeling of gratitude at our privilege in being able to enjoy such a grand feast with family and friends, or perhaps a sense of hope as we see the fresh and displace the old and tired.
But, as we re-experience plagues and hasty departures, taste bitterness and sweetness, re-enact old sacrifices and sing ancient psalms, we are also re-affirming an essential human solidarity: we all live in the same world (even those “down under”), enjoy the same nature, experience the same existential needs and draw meaning from historical events - our own and those of others - that serve as models and sources of inspiration.
Nature, history, our lives - all part of one universe, one creation.
To those celebrating Passover, I wish you a happy holiday filled with good food, joyous celebration with friends and family, and lively and meaningful discussion of past, present, and we all hope, a bright and promising future.
And I also want to wish those readers who will be celebrating Easter a meaningful holiday filled with joy, happiness, hope, promise, and peace.
ED. NOTE: Rabbi Isaacs is rabbi at Beth Judah Temple, Wildwood. He invites questions emailed to his website, www.rabbiron.com