Passover is the Jewish calendar’s most popular holiday. Whether religious or secular, Sephardic or Ashkenazi – about 90% of Jews celebrate the holiday at a Passover seder.
The seder itself is a mixture of food (traditional favorites like matzah ball soup usually reign), singing (dayenu anyone?) and storytelling – particularly the telling of the Exodus story, which recounts the Israelite’s journey from slavery under Pharoah to liberation.
It doesn’t take much digging to uncover Passover’s compelling connections to service. The Exodus story itself offers endless starting points to discuss the personal and systemic oppression our friends, families, communities and world face today. Jews are told to tell and understand the Passover story as if it recounts their own Exodus from Egypt. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote for My Jewish Learning, “During the seder, we can fulfill the double command to show and to see ourselves as having come forth from Egypt by retelling the story in our own words and through the lens of our own experience…by using the story of the exodus as a framework for exploring our own personal liberation struggles or current political struggles, we can come to see ourselves as participants in the continuing journey toward freedom.
To that end, many seder-goers have created freedom or labor-based haggadot or seder supplements (like this one, this one, and this one) which explicitly weave in the theme of freedom, activism and service into the seder. Other people experiment with the seder plate, adding symbolic items like an orange or olive to the usual maror (bitter herbs) and beitzah (egg).
Another centuries-old Passover custom, Maot Chitim, encourages food access to the less fortunate. For thousands of years, Jews collected wheat in order to provide matzah for the poor. Today, some communities hold food-drives or donate to food-related charities as a way of honoring the tradition.
Regardless of how or where you celebrate the seders this year – at your parents’ table, in a dorm room, or on the beach – take a moment to reflect on the holiday’s themes of service, and the daily opportunities we have to increase freedom and liberation in the world.