Once a year we celebrate Purim; once a year we celebrate Pesach. As Jews, we define our lives through the embrace of our calendar. Our Purim celebrations,our Seders, and our keeping of Pesach in still collective memory. As we retell the familiar stories each year, we remind ourselves that the battle for freedom is never fully won but must be fought for in every generation.
For us as Jews, society is a moral construct–society is only as free as the least free person in it. Our religious truths are based on the notion of human dignity. Indeed the most powerful line in all of Torah might simply be where God proclaims “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt out of the House of bondage.” Each year, we relearn
what it feels like to be marginal, and we are reminded of our duty to feel solidarity with those who find themselves on the margins of society. Both Purim and Pesach remind us that knowing what it means to have been a stranger in strange land is a necessary precondition for addressing the totality of the society in which we live.
Over the course of the past several weeks we have watched as this desire for freedom and human dignity has been unleashed. Paradoxically, the Egyptian masses who took to the streets and are transforming their society were motivated by these same human values that we are reminded of each year at Purim and Pesachâ€”what we as Jews might call mishpat and hesedâ€”justice and mercy. (Just as we watched, we wait with equal concern that the government which finally emerges recognizes the importance of its bi-lateral relations with Israel and upholds its commitments to the peace treaty itself.)
Our embrace of the calendar reminds us that there is also freedom in timeâ€”not simply in place. Purim, Pesach, Shabbat, the sabbatical year and even the hoped-for Jubilee year all remind us that we cannot become prisoners to time but are capable of sanctifying time–of making it holy. Work is just one aspect of being human, sanctifying time is yet another. The notion that Shabbat is but a taste of “Olam haba– of the world to come” is a means by which we can imagine what a utopian world might look like: good food, candles, wine and three hours of davening each morning.
Thus the unfolding each year of Purim and Pesach brings us face to face with the call of what it truly means to be Jewish: working for human dignity, understanding the needs of the stranger and realizing that we are not prisoners to time but capable of sanctifying it through sacred acts.
During the coming months, we will address these issues of justice and dignity through the rituals of the holidays and through special programming which will connect the ancient celebrations to the modern moment in which we live.
During shul on Shabbat Zachor (March 19th), Professor Carolyn Levy will share with us insights into the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 and the impact it had on the consciousness of the emerging Jewish community inside America. It would only be after 146 young women died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that the government would turn its
attention to working conditions in factories. In commemorating this event in American history, we are also reminding ourselves that human dignity, concern for the stranger and learning how to sanctify time through work and rest remain important concerns. It is not simply the Megilla or the Hagaddah which tells us these truths–the story of our people in different times and places remind us of our sacred calling.
On April 13 at 7:00 p.m., Beth Jacob is honored to host the premiere of â€abUSed: The Postville Raid.â€ Luis Argueta, a noted and award winning Guatemalan filmmaker, spent the last two and half years editing a movie about the May 2008 immigration raid at the AgriProcessors plant. This film has received critical praise in its showings across the country–whether in Washington DC or Northeast Iowa schools. The selection of Beth Jacob as the site of the filmâ€™s local premier is not accidental. This congregation has been at the forefront in addressing issues of social justice for years–long before Postville became a household name. This movie reminds us that the story of Pesach is not over when we close the Haggadah, but continues in the work which is being done to insure that never again will there be a Postville or a Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
Luis will be present to answer questions. We will also have an update on the work being done to insure that the kosher food industry never receives such a black mark again. Our work on Magen Tzedek is simply an extension of the meaning of these festive moments in the calendar. When we are able to transform our festivals into a life long act of justice and mercy, then indeed our Jewish life has been more fully realized. It is not enough to simply twist the gragger or eat the
Matza. Rather these acts are done in order to motivate us to live out the meaning of the festivals themselves in the daily lives which we lead. That is the meaning of Jewish life and the reason the Haggada says–“In every generation one must see himself or herself as if he or she came out of Mitzrayim.” This is our task, and this is how we as a shul community are demonstrating that indeed it is possible to achieve.
Phyllis joins me in wishing you a frelilach Purim and a sweet and kosher Pesach.
Rabbi Morris J. Allen