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Guest Blog: Passover Reflection

Apr 02, 2012 — Categories: , ,

I can always remember the timing of important events in my life because I associate them with the order of the Jewish calendar.

I can always remember the timing of important events in my life because I associate them with the order of the Jewish calendar. My daughter’s birthday is just before Purim[1], and my son’s birthday is near Passover.  My husband proposed to me during Channukah, and we were married soon after Tish b’Av[2]. The Jewish calendar creates a rhythm to our year. These celebrations and commemorations create a sense of stability for me.  I know what to expect and how to prepare for it. I bring home honey and apples for a sweet new year every fall, and I plan a night’s worth of teaching for Shavuot[3] every summer. As the holidays cycle around they provide me with a sense of security and order.

No time of the year brings more order than Passover. The ritual meal Jews eat on the first two nights of the festival are called the seder, and the word seder itself literally means order. The meal, orchestrated by a book called the hagaddah, offers a framework for telling one another the story of our redemption from Egypt. Through the use of symbolic foods and ancient texts we engage in conversation and prayer. The structure of the seder gives us the space we need to retell the horrors of living under Pharaoh’s tyranny and the turmoil of leaving the familiar world of Egypt, however terrible, for the unchartered wilderness. Each year we read the words in the hagaddah and use the proscribed food and familiar words to study the texts further in depth and gain new insights into the meaning of redemption.

The seder ritual itself was created in response to a moment of utter chaos for the Jewish people, the destruction of the Temple.  When the Temple fell there was no place to offer the Passover Lamb.  Without the lamb there was no system for offering God thanks for the gift of redemption from Egypt. We lost our method to connect to God and struggled to make sense of being outcasts in a foreign land. Gradually, a home ritual was developed to take the place of the Passover sacrifice and offer stability to a people struggling to overcome the violence of destruction and exile. Through the seder these refugees created we learn that limits, routine and predictability provide freedom. By committing ourselves to the seder each year we commit to the theology that the darkness and narrowness of oppression will always give way to light and wide expanse.

Living in an abusive relationship is the opposite of the order that the tradition provides for the Jewish people during the seder. The definition of freedom is not an existence without boundaries. Any survivor can tell you without boundaries, limits and safety they are far from free. The abusive cycle of tension building, abusive acts and the subsequent honeymoon happens with no predictability.  There is no telling when an abuser will strike and no telling whether the apologies and promises of change are sincere. Stumbling through life with a taskmaster like that is a form of slavery.  My prayer for us this Passover season is that everyone who experiences abuse will know the blessing of seder, of order, and can see the promise of redemption even in the darkest time.

Rabbi Elana Zelony

Rabbi Zelony was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University (AJU) in 2009. She also holds a Masters in Education from the Fingerhut School of AJU and has completed the Rabbinic Management Institute--a certificate program in non-profit management for rabbis. Prior to entering rabbinical school she studied for two years at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She earned her BA in Geology at Occidental College.

She began to learn about domestic abuse when she attended a breakfast sponsored by the Faith Trust Institute in Atlanta. The goal of the breakfast was to offer religious leaders tools for addressing the issue of abuse in their communities. She now sits on the board of Shalom Bayit, the division of Jewish Family and Career Services that supports survivors of abuse. She also serves on The Faith Advisory Team of the Georgia Commission of Family Violence, an interfaith group, working for the prevention of domestic abuse.

Rabbi Zelony was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She makes her home with her husband Adiv and their two children Nesya and Magen. She is an avid reader of poetry and enjoys keeping healthy by running and doing yoga.

[1] Spring holiday celebrating Jews outwitting mandated massacre in Persia

[2] Late summer commemoration of the destruction of both Temples and Exiles

[3] Early summer celebration of the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai celebrated by staying up all night studying Jewish texts


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Passover Blog

Posted by David M. Roth at Apr 02, 2012 03:05 PM
The blog is very well written, and I've forwarded it to my cousin in Israel who is also in Rabbinical School at Zeigler.

However, it would have been helpful if the Rabbi also wove in something about our duty not to stand idly by while others are enslaved...whether in Egypt or in an abusive relationship!

Thank you, David Roth - Advisory Board Member - Clark University Hillel, Adviser - Clark University TOPICS: Students Dealing with Dating Violence, Board Member - Males Advocating Change, Advocate/Supporter - Pathways for Change (formerly Rape Crisis Center of Central MA)


Posted by Gus Kaufman at Apr 04, 2012 07:47 PM
I am kvelling that our 'home town' rabbi has written a powerful D'var! What I would add is that each of us is called to put our feet on the path of liberation for the captives. Like Moses, even if we are protected in some way, if some of our people being oppressed, we must act.
Gus Kaufman
Atlanta, GA