By Faustine Goldberg-Sigal, International Director of Jewish Education & Shaina Abrams-Kornblum, Eastern Community Manager
Pesach (AKA Passover / Pesach / Pesaj) is when we celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery by retelling the story of Exodus at a Seder. If you’ve ever seen the classic movie The Ten Commandments, The Prince Of Egypt, or A Rugrats Passover, you probably know the story. The Hebrew name Pesach (or Passover) comes from the last of the 10 plagues, when the firstborn children of the Egyptians were killed while the Angel of Death literally passed over the Jewish homes. Pesach 2020 starts at sundown on Wednesday, April 8th and ends at sundown on Thursday, April 16th.
No two Pesachs are alike! So you have never seen a Pesach like this before. Pesach is this beautiful mix of traditions and stories that we are asked to tell and retell each year. Pesach is special because it is not singular: there are eight days and an abundance of ways that you can celebrate. We have prepared some resources bearing in mind that some of you want to do programs before, during, and even after Pesach.
According to Rabban Gamliel in the Mishnah, “In every generation one is obligated to regard themself as though they personally had gone out from Egypt”. In the world of the Sages, this is very radical: one is legally required (and accountable!) to feel their own personal involvement in this collective adventure, thus making the past present. Pretty tall order, right? Well if your one goal is to experience, we want to make sure you have the resources and perspectives you need to reach this goal in a way that makes sense for you and your community.
Preparing for the Story
Brain Beady: What’s the Story?
Pesach is the celebration, remembrance and actualization of the story of Exodus. One good first step in any Pesach program is exploring it and discussing it. As any good story, it can be told in an infinite number of ways. Here are some suggestions:
- The Biblical version is in the book of Exodus, chapters 1 to 15-ish here on Sefaria (you can read it, check translations, comments, make source sheets, etc)
- Need we list the Prince of Egypt movie? There was actually a team of rabbis and scholars who served as advisors on the production of the movie to make it match the Jewish story and interpretations.
- The (awesome) JewBelong Haggadah has a play you can read/act with your guests, starting page 16
Space Ready: Reframing Cleaning
As our friends of Jewbelong write, “Passover is a big food holiday, with many traditional foods and one big “don’t.” The don’t is bread or any leavened food.” This means that a lot of Jews clean their houses thoroughly to eliminate any trace of yeast or leavened food. Here’s a user-friendly guide on how to do this in the halachic (i.e. Jewish legal) way.
Before you start cleaning, hold on for a second and check this out! The book A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind will change your perspective on how – but mostly why – to clean your house. In this book, Japanese Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto explains:
“Japanese people have always regarded cleaning as more than a common chore. It’s normal here for elementary and junior high school students to clean their classrooms together; although I heard that this isn’t done in schools abroad.(…) Cleaning is carried out not because there is dirt, but because it’s an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.” (p.3)
Try reading this text/book or discussing things such as minimalism or the KonMari method to enable you to find more meaning in the cleaning. You might also reframe the cleaning as a Tikun Olam program during which you could repair and/or donate objects you no longer use — and invite your community members to do the same at their homes in the following days.
Soul Ready: A Cleansing Meditation
Visit RitualWell for a guided meditation inspired by the ritual of cleaning out chametz: “Every year, before Pesach, we are commanded to prepare our homes by getting rid of all the chametz, to start fresh and clean, to sweep out all the gunk and crumbs. We can do the same thing with the homes called our bodies, where we store a lot of aches, pains, annoyances, disturbances, stresses, maladaptive habits, etc.”
- Round 1 – Physical body scan
- Round 2 – Mind/Thoughts
- Round 3 – Emotions
- Round 4 – Spirit/ Essence
This is an activity that you can do on your own and/or with your community, before, after or independently of physically cleaning your home.
Sharing the Story
Sharing the story of Pesach is a central part of the holiday. Retelling the story is also meant to take us through our own experience of slavery and pain and to think about what holds us back from freedom in our own lives. This story has served as inspiration for many groups of people looking for liberation in one way or another: Soviet Jews, communist activists, feminists, LGBTQ+, Black Lives Matter, climate awareness activists. The ideas of oppression, exile and liberation are universal.
Gather Around for the Seder
The Seder is an engaging and thoughtful dinner with a lot of rituals. The Seder leaves room for debate and conversations about the story of Exodus and its meaning. Seder means “order” (referring to the 14 traditional steps of the meal). We use ideas, emotions, values, songs, food and gestures to make learning as deep as possible.
The seder plate holds the ritual items that are discussed during the Seder. Each item has a meaning and a specific place in our storytelling during the Seder. A typical Seder plate would include the following: roasted shankbone, roasted egg, maror (bitter herb), charoset, karpas (green vegetable), chazeret (second bitter herb), salt water, matzah, and a cup of wine or grape juice. There are many variations of what can be added to the seder plate as well.
- Leading an awesome Seder is both highly do-able and important!
- Have you ever heard of Friend Seder?
- Check out this 2 minute Rube Goldberg Seder
- 10 Unique Items to add to your seder plate
- Many vegetarians have struggled with the idea of having a shank bone at their table. There are many alternatives including cutting a bone shape out of cardboard or using beets. Read here about why beets are accepted as a vegetarian shank bone.
Haggadah: The Setlist for the Seder
Haggadah means “storytelling”. It is the book we use to tell the story of the Exodus during the seder of Pesach. Most communities have made their own throughout Jewish history. By looking at a haggadah, you can say a lot about the Jews who wrote it: what they thought, experienced, hoped, believed, etc. You can see if they have travelled, if they were merchants, astrologists, historians, etc. A haggadah is a sneak peek into the heart of a Jewish community.
Haggadah Resources We Love:
- The two minute Haggadah
- You could create your own custom haggadah or have an event where the community comes together to create one. Haggadot.com has everything you could ever want in a haggadah and you can pull from different sources to create one that fits your needs.
- The Pardes companion to the haggadah includes texts and ideas that could easily be used for a Jewish Learning event about Pesach. http://elmad.pardes.org/2016/04/the-pardes-companion-to-the-haggadah/
- A collection of creative resources about how to add meaning to your Pesach.
Eating the Story
Food as Jewish Learning
Jews have a thing with food—yes. Food is used to express joy and sadness, to share stories, to create communities, to build identity and to renew it. At Moishe House, we know Jewish food can be the core content of a great Jewish learning program (check out our Jewish Learning tree). As Gil Marks writes in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food:
“There is no way you can practice Judaism religiously or culturally without food. Food has been intrinsic to Jewish ritual, life and culture from the outset. What is the very first act that the Israelites in Egypt are commanded to do? It’s to have a communal meal—roast lamb and herbs, some nice shwarma. And with that, the beginning of the Jewish people is through a meal. The famous joke—“They tried to kill us, we won, now let’s eat”—is not really that far from the truth.”
On Pesach, food doesn’t accompany the story—it is the story. We already mentioned the ban on chametz, leavened food. Through the seder plate and beyond, food becomes the source of knowledge and experience. This is one of the ways that we can feel like we left Egypt ourselves – by putting the story literally inside our bodies.
Food Justice & Tikun Olam
How will you use the magic of Pesach food in your program this year? Your choices could reflect something from the Pesach story, something that happened in your community, what grows locally in your country at this time of the year or on the contrary what grows in Israel, or in Egypt…
- Great Pesach recipes from the New York Times from Jewish communities from all over the world
- Do you know about the beautiful post-Pesach Morrocan tradition of mimouna? Spoiler: it involves friendly neighbors and honey crepes called mofletas
We open the storytelling with the text of Ha lachma anya (“This is the bread of affliction”) which concludes with an invitation to anyone that is hungry to join us as we celebrate. We often glide on this heartwarming idealistic invitation.
Maybe this year you want to make it more concrete in one way? Think about:
- A pre-Pesach food drive with your community members in your neighborhood where you could give chametz food to people who are hungry
- A pre-Pesach collection of chametz from your community members which you could bring to a local food bank
- Planning in advance to minimize food waste from your seder dinner
- Cooking with surplus food and discussing it with your community members
- Accompanying the reading of Ha lachma anya by sharing some statistics of food insecurity in your city or country and discussing them
Pesach is a ready made treasure of Moishe House programs waiting to be brought to life. It is all about experiential learning, meaningful rituals, bringing people together and making change happen. Moishe House is here to support you! If you would like help or further resources as you plan your Pesach programs, please reach out to your Regional Jewish Educators or your Community Managers. You can find past years’ resources here too. We have a special Chag Grant for Pesach (up to $100) available to houses now, so apply today!