We joined my son and his family at his in-laws in Atlanta for Passover, the holiday that commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The meal, the Seder, includes the retelling of the story, often accompanied by songs and traditional foods, particularly the eating of matzo, the unleavened bread the Jews made in their hasty retreat from Egypt.
The day after our family Seder, we caught up with a college friend of my husband’s who is a Reform rabbi in the area. He’d spent the past two nights conducting Seders at local churches, who are eager to understand the holiday’s significance and create better understanding between different faiths.
While chatting about our children and his, he mentioned that his youngest daughter, a college junior, is spending this semester in Holland, having left five days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. He relayed how he told her “to not tell anyone she’s Jewish and to not wear her Jewish star necklace” given the potential for Anti-Semitism. He said he felt very strange giving these warnings as a rabbi.
Later in the day, we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Set within a peaceful garden, the library and museum hold the documents, artifacts and videos from speeches and highlights of Carter’s term in office,
1977-1981, and his Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Carter has dedicated his post-presidential life to bettering human rights around the world.
Our visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I couldn’t help feel the connection between the struggles for freedom that continue to propel current events.
Indiana made news with its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law designed to protect business owners who cite religious beliefs as reasons to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers. Protests and backlash ensued, causing Republican Gov. Mike Pence to amend the law.
Back in New Jersey, we capped the weekend with a spring bike ride through Jockey Hollow, part of a national historical park where Gen. George Washington’s army spent the winter of 1779-1780 during the Revolutionary War. While cycling, I thought of the musical Hamilton that celebrates the toils of the Founding Fathers seeking freedom from the British.
The desire for freedom continues, whether home or abroad, in speech, in religion, in the workplace, and in marriage. The Passover Seder includes the reading of the Haggadah, which describes the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
May next year’s Seders celebrate freedom everywhere.