Rabbi Zimmerman on Passover as a Powerful Pedagogic Experience

When Passover approaches, I often reflect on the ways that the ancient and communal ritual of the seder is also very personal. For me, the essence of Passover has been shaped by the experiences within my own family, through the narratives of resilience and liberation that have been passed down through generations.  

My husband, Frank Hornstein, and his family have provided me with the most tangible connections to the Passover story of liberation, as their family history of surviving the Holocaust is always with us during this time. Every year we attend the Hornstein & Ornstein family seder. The families have been close since their days in Hungary. At our seders, Dr. Anna Ornstein, now 97 years old and an Auschwitz survivor, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, and scholar, shares her stories about her experiences in Auschwitz. We also each take a turn to reflect on our personal experiences of liberation over the past year, in addition to the traditional words, melodies and symbolic foods. 

This is how we make the tradition our own and embrace it as a powerful pedagogic tool. Through sharing, we teach ourselves and future generations that the story of Passover is also the story of our own lives: We need to be people who ask serious questions about the world around us, and always engage in self-reflection.   

This pedagogy of Passover also calls us into action. At the seder we read the teaching from Rabban Gamliel: “In every generation, each person must see themselves as one who was liberated from Egypt.” When we understand ourselves in this way, we then become people who act for justice in our world, not only out of ethical obligation, but also because the rituals invite us to imagine ourselves as our enslaved ancestors, and then as ones who were liberated.

As the seder concludes we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  When we say this, we are offering our deepest hopes for a better future. We think especially this year about the hostages who are still not with their loved ones and for whom “next year in Jerusalem” takes on an even deeper meaning. We stand with all Israelis who come to seder tables with heavier hearts after the atrocities of October 7, 2023, and we pray for peace for all people suffering from this tragic war. As we gather at seder tables, let us carry forward the Passover messages of resilience, family, community, social responsibility, and hope for peace. May this festival inspire us to reflect on our own journeys, and to commit ourselves anew to the pursuit of justice and peace.  

Wishing our community a meaningful and liberating Passover. 

Rabbi Marcia A. Zimmerman holds the Alvin & June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair at Temple Israel in Minneapolis.

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