A smooth river stone is etched with the word faith for spiritual affirmation purposes

OPINION: Passover — An Annual Reminder of Perseverance

by Rubissa Sharona Hassan

For more than 3,000 years, Jewish people around the world have celebrated the festival of Passover. The foundation, consistency, and universality of this holiday strengthens everyone connected to its observance.

Passover recounts the Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The biblical text clearly describes the pain and struggle of those enslaved for 210 years under the cruel oppression of Pharaoh. The Almighty produces signs and wonders, each slightly outside of the normal laws of nature. The enslavement and move to freedom is painstaking, with one God and many humans working actively to change the status quo. Freedom is achieved slowly and entails its own learning process. In the Exodus, the Israelites transform from an assortment of slaves to a unified People. 

This foundation narrative of that particular time period contains inherent themes relevant to all times. Enslavement, being trapped by injustice and cruel leadership, is a painfully recurring situation across time and location. The understanding that there is a Higher Power at work throughout our personal struggles, who observes and guides us, is a crucial comfort. Knowing that miracles happen, some overt but often more discreet, is part of the Divine process. And the Almighty does not operate alone, but in a symphony with mankind. Additionally, moving from a place of suffering and struggle to a place of freedom is a process. The process hurts and generally moves only incrementally, and God is there with us the whole time. Finally, being free means freedom to make responsible choices for ourselves and others relying on us. 

On either the first or the first two nights of Passover, people gather to celebrate the Seder. At this ritual meal, special foods are eaten and a special book, the Haggadah, is read to recount the Exodus and to expound on its meaning. The Haggadah includes the imperative for all Jews: “In every generation every person is required to reflect upon themselves as though they were among the people who left Egypt.” For some 3,000 years, Jews around the world annually recount this story and insert themselves in the narrative, as though they personally struggled, appreciated the assistance of the Almighty, and underwent a transformative process. 

The Hebrew word “Haggadah” comes from the verb “l’hagid,” which means “to tell.” Passover is all about telling the story. The shared chronicle provides everyone with a foundation. People observing the holiday know of the shared struggle and peoplehood which emerged. This universal narrative connects everyone in the past and present, providing meaning to the rituals and community. 

One of my youngest students, a sweet 5-year-old, explained, “Because I understand the story about Egypt I understand my own story. I was never really there in my body, but in my head and heart, I understand everything!” Her understanding will be built upon each year, in the observance of the festival with her family and community. Some years Passover is deeply joyous; other times deeply challenging. Putting that into perspective is crucial. 

This year is one which combines the two opposite emotions in today’s Seattle community. It is exponentially more difficult for the tens of thousands of Jews living in Ukraine, including the country’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky. It was shockingly hard for the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust, and yet there are many stories of the efforts and hopes involved in Passover observance during this time. Moving further back in history, during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and other times of religious persecution, Passover was steadfast in the Jewish calendar. 

Jewish continuity means the same Seder from the same Haggadah text is appreciated by all. The oldest Haggadah is from 1,000 CE. The oldest matza ball soup recipe might not be that old, but the sharing of texts and recipes between friends, families, communities, and generations is one of the aspects of Jewish continuity.

According to population surveys, Passover is the most observed Jewish holiday. This is for all the aforementioned reasons, from foundation story to universal themes, shared rituals to shared recipes. Additionally, optimism plays a key role. The Seder night ends with a song about our wish for where and how we will be celebrating next year. Passover is not just about the here and now. It is not just about the long and deep history. It is hinged upon our vision for the future; our hopes, dreams, and optimism.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Rubissa Sharona Hassan serves in many roles as an educator and community builder. She and her husband, Rabbi Benjamin Hassan, are Rabbi and Rubissa at Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation in Seattle, Washington, where she also serves as youth director. Rubissa Sharona has been an educator for 20 years, fine-tuning her trade across three continents. She teaches a variety of groups, from adults to preschool. Rubissa Sharona enjoys writing, crafts, and storytelling, which she often weaves into her teaching. She and her husband are the proud parents of four daughters.

📸 Featured image by Matt Benoit/Shutterstock.com.

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