With Shavuot just around the corner (June 8-9), we are going back to the beginning of the counting of the Omer with a Passover reflection piece from Jessica and Jon Marker. Jon was a participant on the first ever REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America Corps Members. Both Jon and Jess will partake in the 2011 ROI Summit this June.
Passover is BY FAR our favorite holiday and even time of year. Since becoming a couple—seven and a half years ago!—we’ve prioritized this holiday as a time to be together, share in it with our friends and family, and just have fun.
Since our college years, we’ve put together several iterations of the Passover celebration—from developing “Passover the Musical” to creating a space for deep reflection and recommitment to the issues that are plaguing the world globally. So, from the times of sitting around on our college apartment floors to eventually commandeering the holiday from both our families and making it our own, Passover has developed into a time and place of incredible significance and great beauty in our lives.
This year, due to the high volume of interest from our friends and family in previous years, we decided to do two Seders—one we fondly called “pre-over,” as it was two days before the first night, and then our second Seder on the first night of Passover. This year, we felt fortunate to be able to host our Seders for 60 friends and family members.
|Jon and Jess’ guests nourished body and soul during
a Seder centered around the theme of
|The home-made Seder plate.|
Each year we like to take on a different “theme” if you will. We typically convene friends and family members of all religious backgrounds and familiarity levels around our Seder table and have found this not only ties the Seder together well but provides a nice focal point for everyone to find common ground and build a foundation of understanding and participation. While each year of our Seder changes in theme and focus, one constant is our very own “Passover the Musical” paired unabashedly with tambourine accompaniment. (Always a fun and unique treat!)
Two years ago, our Seder focused solely on the meaning of oppression—the oppression that currently exists today and what we can do in the coming year to ensure freedom for all. Last year, we continued this discussion, while adding a focus on tradition and family, and the role they played in the Exodus and in our current culture.
This year, we focused on “Boundary Crossing.” We wanted to center our discussions around our own experiences and perspectives, while also looking to the perspectives and experiences of others—both past and present. Each night, we asked every participant to be a “boundary crosser,” to look beyond what is given, written or their own experiences in order to question, provoke, debate and understand that “THESE and THESE are both of God.”
“THESE and THESE are both of God.” We recently saw The Chosen at Arena Stage, and this sentence is reiterated throughout the story. Although experiences, perspectives and lifestyles might be different, even conflicting at points, they can still both be of God. We thought this was the perfect phrase to bring into our Passover Seder.
With the help of the Schusterman Foundation, we were able to really dive deep into this theme by creating our own Haggadah (something we’ve been desperate to do for years as we have been piecing together 14 different haggadot and a plethora of additional readings), which allowed us to mold the Seder around this particular theme and push the thinking of all of our Seder’s participants, as well as include all of our favorite quotes and songs as well.
For example, this year we used the four cups of wine, to mark the chapters in our “boundary-crossing” quest. The four cups we used were:
- Concept of being a boundary crosser
- Looking at our world and achieving empathy
- These & These are both of God
- Taking action
We then dove in to the four questions by developing our own four questions to guide the discussion and push the thinking of everyone at our table:
- What past are we revisiting?
- Is the Passover story unique and what implication are there if it is or is not?
- Who’s voice is missing from the Passover story?
- Why is it still happening?
It was fascinating to see how based on these questions, the discussions took off and actually went in different directions both nights, although each equally insightful.
Our discussion on the first night of Passover led to such rich conversation and thought that we got several follow up emails the next day. Here are some anecdotes:
“I was thinking some more about our Seder last night and the discussions that you and Jon launched at the table. I have been meditating some more about the connection between freedom and Torah, if we understand by Torah writ large, a code of governance for the rulers and behavior for the ruled. More and more I am beginning to realize that in such a thought framework, freedom without Torah becomes anarchy. Thus our founding fathers were infinitely wise in fighting for our freedom while at the same time, giving us a form of Torah, i.e governance structures that allow us to exercise our freedoms while becoming what we want to become in the image of G-D. The challenge for our country, as we have seen in Iraq, is that one can’t export freedom in an instant. Transfer of Torah takes generations.”
“The core of democracy is choice and not something chosen.”
“I wanted to share a few of the quotes that have been stirring in my mind since last night: ‘If you want to see freedom you don’t look at a kid jumping around with nothing to do. You see an accomplished artist sit down at a piano and play something so beautiful you can hardly stay in your seat. How did he get there? He didn’t get there by turning in on himself. He took the step that is always first in freedom which is to submit himself to reality. That’s the first step. And for that you need truth. Reality is what you can think of as what you run into when you are wrong! Truth can help you avoid those occasions. Submit your will to reality through truth.
Now you need more than truth for freedom. You need community. And it’s so very important; bonding. Human fulfillment comes through community in which there is trust and there is truth and the will is enabled to grow so that it takes in what is not a part of itself and makes it a part of itself.
Now go back and think of freedom as the capacity to live fully in the world.’”
Passover is a time of joy, remembrance, reflection and recommitment. We so value our time around the Seder table and what this time brings to our lives and to the lives of those we love. We would like to thank Lynn Schusterman and the foundation for supporting our Seder this year, making it possible to share it with so many and create an evening unlike any other.
Jon Marker is Manager of District and School Partnerships for Teach For America – DC Region. Jessica Marker is Managing Director of Programs for Teach For America – D.C. Region.