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Passover is Our Holiday

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Jon and Jess Marker are both Schusterman REALITY participants and ROI Community members, active contributors to their local Jewish communities and the hosts of legendary Passover seders.

When we started dating a decade ago we decided to split up holidays with our families in order  to avoid the all-too-common angst surrounding the decision of who is expected where for which event. Jess’ mom got Thanksgiving, Jon’s parents got Chanukah and Christmas and we got Passover!

We both cherish childhood memories of our parents and grandparents leading the seder—whether it was Jon’s grandfather reflecting deeply on the second cup of wine and wrestling with the death of so many of  G-d’s children in the Egyptians; Jon’s dad inserting current events, most notably climate change, into the Haggadah; or the vivid pictures and images from Jess’ fathers’ Haggadah which we cherish to this day—Passover allowed our families to take ownership of our Jewishness before do-it-yourself Jewishness was even in style.

Our families were not the only ones to pass down tradition. Even as the Passover story was unfolding, Moses anticipated the need for the story to be passed down from generation to generation immediately after Pharoah tells the Jews to leave Egypt. In Exodus 13, Moses begins talking with his people, explaining the symbolism of what they were doing and how to talk about it with their children.

As a modern example, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that freedom lives within what we teach our children, the stories we share, the lessons we tell and the knowledge we pass on. This is the freedom that Moses embraced, the same freedom that our parents have imbued in us.

Freedom isn’t a static end, freedom is the means by which we tell our story and live our lives.

We have kept this in mind over the past ten years, as we have moved from city to city, hosting seders from Boston to New Hampshire to D.C. and San Rafael as a way to both reflect on our own lives, relationships and leadership and expand the network of people around us who do the same.

It is such a joy to share in this reflection with Jews and non-Jews alike and see how the universal themes of the story of Passover apply and translate to each individual around the table.

Over the years we have created our own ways of retelling the story, focusing on different perspectives: oppression, tradition, boundary crossing, tension between opposing concepts, radical empathy (and in our house we always encapsulate these themes in a broader musical form).While this is our way, we have been raised to see that Passover, possibly more than any other holiday, is a chance to leave your own personal mark on a Jewish tradition and let it leave its own impression on you.

As we retell the story as if we ourselves went out of Egypt through these different lenses and relive the struggle to freedom as if we experienced it ourselves, we gain insight about our peers as we learn about what they emphasize and leave out of their own stories—we are educating one another from our own experiences and growing in community.

In our family it is this ownership and reflection, the experiential education that brings out our passion for the holiday. And while we look back fondly at how our parents and grandparents helped us build this moment, we look ahead to our (growing!) family and ask how our child will one day push our seder in their own unique way. What will we learn from them?

As we insert passages from The New American Haggadah, incorporate a new item onto the seder plate, write a new song to the tune of “Take me out to the ballgame” we wonder how the traditions will grow once our son and everyone he interacts with begins to say “Passover is my holiday.” 

The Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.