March 29, 2002

bashana haba'a

Tonight, at my half-assed (and late) Seder, we will not be doing all the
traditional prayers, leaning to one side, leaning to the other side, spilling wine
on the tablecloth to represent the plagues in Egypt, or having the cats recite the
Four Questions. (If you're wondering, they're all variants on the One Big
Question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Now you know.) We
will be drinking wine and eating matzah, though, and I will serve horseradish
(maror, the bitter herb) and charoses (a mixture of apples, nuts and wine,
representing the mortar the Hebrew slaves had to lay bricks with.) We will also
hamatzo ball soup, which has nothing to do with the ritual of the holiday, but
which is traditional nonetheless.

And even though we will not be
following the traditional order of the service, we will likely end up discussing
the Exodus, which is what the Seder is all about. The point of remembering this
for so long bears repeating, because it has so clearly been forgotten by Israel
and so many others throughout the world. The point is to remember that we were
strangers in a strange land. We were welcomed as honored guests and treated well.
A couple of centuries later, we were treated as slaves and cruelly oppressed. And
that "we" is another vital part of the Seder: we need to think of it as if we were
there, not some distant ancestor. Because we could be there: the same things are
going on today and it could be any of us. We've been there. We know what it was
like. And because of that, we need to treat other strangers we encounter with
kindness and respect. We owe it to those who treated us well; we owe it to
ourselves to be better than those who treated us badly. We are better than they
were, but only if we act so. We have no other claim to be more moral just because
it's us and not them; we have to earn our moral standing by our own actions. You
will realize that I am not speaking only of Jews here.

This also is
why my throat closes up when I think of the end of the Seder. The traditional
ending is, "Bashana haba'a b'yerushalayim, next year in Jerusalem", meaning, happy
as we are to be able to hold this Seder here, next year, may we be able to cease
wandering and hold our Seder in our true home. Well, I'm a bad Jew. I have no
desire to move to Jerusalem. I would like to visit, but my home is in America, a
country where you can't be quarantined for your ethnicity. Jerusalem has gotten
along without me for three thousand years and I don't think it will suffer for
missing my presence. My wish is instead, "Bashana haba'a shalom b'yerushalayim",
which is probably not correct Hebrew, but which I intend to mean, "Next year may
there be peace in Jerusalem." Next year may Arabs and Jews see their shared
heritage rather than their differences. Next year may they see that war in such a
small country can only hurt both sides. Next year may they build, together,
instead of destroying; may they ask "How can we live together?" instead of "How
can I get you out of here?" Next year, respect instead of hatred, peace instead of
war, life and learning instead of death. Next year, next year, next year.

Posted by dichroic at March 29, 2002 04:59 PM
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