Making ritual more than rote

Posted on 05 April 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

A long-ago demographic study found that the Passover seder was the most “observed” ritual of American Jews. That meant that we Jews sit down for a seder more often than lighting Shabbat candles, more often than going to synagogue on the High Holy Days and even more often than celebrating Chanukah. There are many thoughts on why the seder seems to be the most popular ritual, but most feel it has to do with home, family, and food (probably not in that order).

The question this survey didn’t focus on, however, was “what does your seder look like?” or “what activities take place at your seder?” For some, the answer could include kashering the house, burning the chametz, having a long seder in Hebrew and carefully keeping the rules during the holiday. For others, the answer might involve inviting a lot of people, worrying about the food and — oh yeah — having matzah and lots of it.

The important aspect here is not to let any observance — Pesach or any other one — to become rote. There is a reason why we subsist on matzah — and no leavened bread — for the full eight days (and it isn’t because of the taste).

If you’re one of those who struggles with the lack of leavening and tends to cave early, consider taking Joel Lurie Grishaver’s “Matzah Challenge.” This challenge is in his book, “40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People,” and he writes “The matzah challenge is good, because it gives you a Jewish accomplishment in your life. It’s easy to do with kids — just think of all the charts on which you can paste gold stars. But, the matzah challenge is also good because it teaches us the Bet Hillel lesson. If you manage to get through a whole week — going to all the ordinary places you need to go, doing all the things you need to do — and bread (chametz) has not crossed your lips, you’ve proved that ordinary life and being a Jew can go together — that neither has to lose.” A powerful message indeed.

If you already follow the rules of Passover, and think the matzah challenge isn’t necessary, carefully consider why you follow those rules — and discuss those reasons. The goal here is to add meaning to the rituals of the holiday, rather than going through it just because our bubbie, or father, or rabbi tells us we have to.

May your celebration be joyous and complete with family, good food and meaningful discussion.

Laura Seymour, is director of Youth and Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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