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At JCHE, Passover tells a personal story

Posted: April 12, 2011

Sunday night I went to the American Jewish Committee Diplomat’s Seder, courtesy of a very generous new JCHE board member Amy Gorin.  I had heard about this event for years—many dear friends have been involved for ages (Mel Shuman, Jim Kaufman and Eleanor White).  After spending the evening there I cannot figure out how I’ve passed it up before.

Obviously I’ve been to many seders and even many model seders and even written/conducted many of my own.  What made this one stand out so much was the very personal connection with people who had actually experienced slavery, or slavery-like conditions, in their own lives.  They attended and told their stories.  That made me think:

1.  The Jewish tradition of telling the Passover story and indeed behaving as if we were going through it ourselves is totally right.  The notion of experiential learning is a powerful one and I’m glad it’s part of my tradition (please remind me of this as I clean out all the cabinets this weekend and profess a complete lack of understanding about why I am doing it again……).

2.   Acting out a story and trying to understand it is no substitute for directly being in the presence of a person who went through a freedom-denying ordeal.  Listening to their narrative for five minutes is more powerful than hours of  symbolic re-enacting.  We need to make the time in our lives to hear these accounts and be reminded that striving for freedom is very much an ongoing 'real time' issue. 

3.   JCHE is a safe haven for many who have suffered at the hands of modern day taskmasters, yet their stories and our story are not told enough.   The halls in our buildings are filled with survivors of the traumas like the ones discussed at the seder—we have holocaust survivors, Russian refusenicks and Chinese immigrants who found themselves on the very wrong side of the Cultural Revolution.  They understand a shared history of trauma and we need to help give voice to that.

As we begin our preparations for our seder tables, I feel proud of JCHE's role as a safe haven for so many over the years. This is an organization that truly understands the Passover story -- and it is a story that we need to retell year after year.   

As always, please send me your thoughts and comments.



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