Our Exiles, Our Freedoms, Our Questions
The seder was a communal Renewal seder, so we heard about modern day slavery (27 million people enslaved today, many more people than the Jewish slaves in Egypt or even all of the slaves taken from Africa over four centuries*), the karpas in salt water as a reminder of the environmental damage destroying our sustenance and I got a “spirit animal” – a snarling mountain lion, which, I was told, represents leadership: “you can never make everyone happy unless you lie to yourself and others,” it told me. “This is human nature. Therefore the first responsibility of leadership is to tell the truth.”
I cried when we got to mah nishtana. Took my glasses off, covered my face in my hands, and sobbed. As the band strummed softly in the background, the Rabbi talked about questions, about their importance, encouraging participants to ask whatever questions they had. It brought back a memory I had forgotten.
When I was a little girl, I was so good. I wanted so desperately to do everything right. I knew that the afikomen got stolen at some point in the seder, but I didn’t remember when, and I became very nervous that I would get it wrong.
I left my seat at the table and walked all the way up to the top, past my brothers and sisters and all the many guests, until I reached my father, wrapped in his white kittel, the gleaming Pesach dishes, cups and saucers set before him like an orchestra before a conductor.
“Tatte,” I whispered shyly. “When do we take the afikomen?”
My father chuckled.
“Oh,” he replied. “Every year the children try to take it from me, I’m going to have to protect it very carefully this year.”
I nodded, dismissed, and walked back to my seat, eyes burning with shame and tears. I felt like an idiot. Everyone was playing this game of pretend and I had been stupid enough to ask a genuine question. I felt like a fool.
It was only a child’s mistake, a child’s sensitivity and hurt, but it was symbolic of a much larger intolerance of questions that took a step back and asked about the whole game – what’s going on here?
“Avadim heyenu” we sang, one hundred and eighty motley Jews in the basement of the JCC. I thought of my friends who are still enslaved in prisons that rob their voice, their free will.
We ate gefilte fish and potato kugel, and then my husband and I left, before hallel. It was late, and we were tired. In the car, on the way home, we sang along with Leonard Cohen:
“By the rivers dark,
In a wounded dawn,
I live my life
Though I take my song
From a withered limb,
Both song and tree,
They sing for him.
Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
What did your Pesach end up looking like? What questions where you left with?
* more at http://www.freetheslaves.net/Printable Version