Rabbi Naomi’s Passover Message 2021

Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

Last year in my Passover message, I encouraged everyone to stay at home for at least two weeks. Who would have guessed that two weeks would have become an entire year!

For most of us, for most of the Passovers of our lives, we have been free. Free to travel to be with relatives. Free to embrace our family members and friends. Free to invite neighbors, friends and new acquaintances into our homes. Free to browse in shops for our favorite Passover foods. We haven’t always been healthy, happy, or secure, but only a few of us ever have experienced constraints on these basic freedoms of movement and interaction.

In the past we’ve had the luxury of approaching the Passover story as mythic history, as treasured lore, as parable and metaphor. The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim - מִצְרַיִם - meaning “narrow place,” reflecting the ancient Egyptian civilization that flourished along the Nile River, a narrow strip of green supporting life in an otherwise arid landscape. Every year at Pesach we ask ourselves, “What are the narrow places in my life and my psyche? How do I need to widen my horizons and my awareness?”

This year we’re all aching to literally come out of the narrow place of pandemic confinement. Some of us have received the vaccination, others are patiently waiting their turn. We have been warned that this is not the time to throw caution to the wind and try to return to pre-pandemic behaviors and habits. Yet as new infection rates are dropping across the country, there is a feeling of anticipation, a hopefulness, as if we can start to see around the corner.

As we think about stepping into greater freedom of movement, we must ask ourselves: What have we learned from this year of sacrifice? Some of the lessons are embedded in the Passover ritual. The name itself is a teaching: Pesach - חג פסח - is literally the “festival of skipping over,” as in our story the Angel of Death skipped over the homes of the Hebrews in Egypt. But alas, our Egyptian neighbors suffered the horrors of the ten plagues, a series of tragedies that we remember with sympathy when we remove drops of wine from our cups, diminishing our joy as we recall the suffering of our adversaries. This year we are keenly aware that though our own households may not have been touched directly, the Angel of Death struck dozens of homes in Humboldt County, more than a half a million homes across the nation, and nearly three million worldwide, with lowest income communities hit the hardest.

In the Pesach seder we declare, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!” (This year we might add: Let all who are vulnerable come and be vaccinated!) Here in Humboldt County, even though we may be unable to assist others face-to-face, we can support our excellent organizations that do so with our volunteer energy and our resources. Here are just two of many:

https://www.foodforpeople.org/ - Food For People, providing immediate support to relieve food insecurity

https://cooperationhumboldt.com/ - Cooperation Humboldt, tackling the root issues of poverty and social injustice

The Temple Beth El Tikkun Olam Group is taking on the responsibility of helping provide nutritious meals for residents of Arcata House (https://www.arcatahouse.org/). To participate in this meaningful mitzvah, please contact TBE member Lorraine Miller-Wolf: curly1363@gmail.com

We’re also supplying Passover meals for HSU students. To support this effort, please send donations to TBE. For just $ 15 you can provide a student with delicious food prepared by TBE’s own Mariah Sarabia. (If this program is well received by the students and supported by the congregation, we might consider also offering some Shabbat dinners while members are unable to host students in their homes. (This project is part of the early efforts to establish a Hillel on campus. If you would like to be involved, please contact TBE member Anna Thaler: annathaler@yahoo.com.)

In addition to tending to the needs of our home community, we can turn our attention to these pressing issues across the globe through the work of organizations like the American Jewish World Service: https://ajws.org/ - Passover donations will be doubled with a generous match this year.

The AJWS philosophy embraces Jewish values of partnership (chevruta) and humility (anavah), supporting diverse grassroots social and environmental in their efforts, rather than imposing solutions from outside:

As we look forward to being liberated from the narrow place of the pandemic, let us work for a world in which all people can imagine and achieve liberation.

B’shalom, Rabbi Naomi