Dear Beit Rabban Community,
Right in the middle of the Exodus story with all its awe-inspiring twists and turns, God pauses in real time to command the Israelites to pay attention and remember all that is happening to them and around them, instructing them to share what they are witnessing with their children in the years to come. I had the pleasure of studying this text on Sunday night with Dr. Sara Labaton from the Shalom Hartman Institute of North American, who generously led a pre-Pesach learning session for the Beit Rabban community. My son joined the class as well, and when Sara reviewed this passage he commented that “it’s almost like the whole point of everything Hashem does for the Jewish people during yetziyat mitzrayim is just so they will remember that it happened.” What a great insight about how much we value memory in Judaism. He was pointing out that the act of remembering is not just a tool to highlight the events that occured. The act of remembering and passing down collective memory is itself of utmost important.
Sara, quoting a colleague who is also my spouse, discussed the central role of memory at the Pesach Seder as encompassing more than the collective memory of freedom from bondage thousands of years ago. Each year as we sit down with our families at the Pesach Seder we spend a lot of time “remembering” and “telling our children” stories from family seders past, passing down family traditions that have developed over years of Seders. Beit Rabban grandparents joined the Zoom class on Sunday night, including my own parents who live in Los Angeles. It felt especially sad to talk about shared family memories with this intergenerational group knowing that none of us would be sharing Pesach with our full families this year.
As we continued to learn together, I realized that I have been thinking about Pesach as a blip of a holiday, as if it were not “really” happening this year because of the Coronavirus. In fact, this year’s Seders may be some of our most memorable precisely because we will never forget this pandemic and its many impacts. All of us are collecting traumatic memories to various degrees, and we will all have to figure out how to manage them down the line. Knowing this, I also want to take stock of some of the inspiring memories of the past weeks, the sort of memories that I will look back on with nostalgia and that I will feel compelled to share because I believe that the act of remembering them and retelling them adds good to the world. I feel so grateful to the Beit Rabban community, to all of you, for providing me with so many of these moments during this otherwise very traumatic time. I will remember…
- The powerful tefillah we share as a community each morning over Zoom.
- The boundless commitment of teachers who care deeply for each of their students even as they manage their own complicated circumstances at home.
- The uproarious, albeit technically muted, laughter of children as they watched their peers perform in our annual “Let My People Show” pre-Pesach talent show online.
- The unbelievable generosity of parents who take the time to write notes of gratitude to our staff even as they juggle work and home and the non-existent line between the two.
- The herculean strength of parents who are caring for their children even while they are themselves sick.
- The beautiful perseverance of children who raise their blue Zoom hands to share reflections and questions during online classes.
- The proud faces of grandparents who eagerly wait during our weekly Zoom Shabbat B’Yachad assemblies to catch the sweet glimpses of their grandchildren reading Torah for the community.
These are inspiring memories. I add to them countless stories of healthcare workers on the front lines, volunteers who care for homebound neighbors, children who brighten our neighborhoods with window signs and so many more. This is my fuel as I enter tonight’s Seder. The inspiration I take from these stories, moments, memories will help me to tap into memories of Seders past, to make new memories that will become part of our family’s always evolving Pesach traditions, and to remember and believe that redemption is always possible.
Wishing all meaningful and memorable Seders wherever you and however you are celebrating--whether your are with immediate family, with roommates, with some other family members, by yourself. May this Pesach bring us all some sense of redemption.