Rabbi David A. Spey
Freedom to Participate
As Passover approaches, we plan our Sederim. We contact our family and friends, checking who is coming, who is bringing the charoset, who is bringing the brisket, and who is bringing the extra chairs. We are reminded of the importance of our circles of family and friends in making large tasks doable, as our community comes together to celebrate this holiday of freedom. We sit together with those closest to us as we recount the story of our people’s liberation from slavery. In fact, just the sitting together around the table is a way of recalling our freedom, or only the free are able to choose to sit together and eat this festive meal; for when we become free from slavery we also become free to make decisions.
Our rabbis explain that, when we view Passover as celebrating freedom from slavery, we continue to identify and define ourselves with respect to being slaves. However, when we embrace the idea of freedom to choose, we begin to identify ourselves as freethinking beings with the freedom of choice. We choose to celebrate this holiday, we choose how to worship God, and we choose with whom to establish a community. This idea of ‘freedom to’ is not so simple; it took our ancestors 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to begin to understand it.
‘Freedom to’ makes demands of us as individuals and as a community. It demands that we accept responsibility to enjoy the freedom as well as the responsibility to care for each other and improve the lives of all people. In this way, celebrating Passover is also a celebration of our mitzvot, commandments, and our responsibilities as Jews. But which particular mitzvah, of all the mitzvot, are we celebrating?
In the beginning of the Exodus narrative, Pharaoh gives us a clue when he refers to us a Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, for the first time. A key factor of the Exodus narrative is that we are a singular, unified people. When layered with the celebration of our responsibilities, Passover becomes a celebration our mitzvot that ask us to be responsible for our community. Sitting, feasting, and recounting the story of our people is a ritual of celebration of community. But what do we do to help and support our community that is worthy of this celebration?
During the storms up north, we saw many examples of how we live up to our responsibilities toward our community and the world. We opened our homes to our friends when they were unable to return to theirs. We collected all manner of necessities and luxuries and provided for those who lost everything. We consoled those who lives had been upended by the natural disasters. But what do we do on a daily basis? It took 40 years of wandering in the wilderness for our ancestors to learn to be responsible for each other on an ongoing basis. How long will it take us?
One of the challenges that Bat Yam faces in addressing the needs of our community is our size. On the one hand, our size is a testament to our vitality and community, as becoming included, known, and accepted within the community is one of our greatest strengths. On the other hand, the small number of households in our synagogue community can pose challenges to our ability to meet the needs of all of congregants as we struggle to find the resources, both financial and human, to provide all the needed services. And yet, there are so many ways for each of us to become involved in some aspect of Temple life that is personally meaningful and that may open up new worlds of friends and interests, in addition to a sense of belonging.
There is a common trend today, to view a synagogue as a service provider rather than the home of a caring community. We constantly strive to achieve the main goals of our community – the communal endeavor is to meet the spiritual, pastoral, and educational needs of every member of every one of our families. Throughout Jewish history, we have striven to find a balance between the need of the individual and the needs of the community, and that is true at Bat Yam as well. We invite everyone, every member of the congregation to become an active part of the community and to help us achieve this important, yet delicate, balance. Tell us what you like to do, and let us find of way to make it happen.
May this Passover serve to re-invigorate our desire for participation in the community of our Jewish people. From the retelling of the story of our people, may we learn responsibilities to our community and our people.
Chag sameach vekasher – May you have a happy and fitting holiday!