Why Is This Morning Different from All Other Mornings?

April 10, 2015
By Avi Rose

On a sunny morning shortly before Passover, about forty JFCS East Bay staff members joined together for our fourth annual Seder. What a wonderful opportunity to share Jewish tradition with people eager to learn, and what a perfect context for all of us to share our own stories of persecution and freedom. It’s a theme that resonates powerfully for our staff: those of us whose families fled Afghanistan and Bosnia and Syria, those of us who used to observe Passover secretly and unknowingly in the former Soviet Union, those of us whose ancestors were enslaved in the American South, those of us whose families were murdered and terrorized by Nazis and survived to build new lives in this country. All of us feel fortunate to share in this ritual together.

It is our custom to gather before the actual holiday begins in order to accommodate those whose observance of Passover laws might make it difficult to eat foods prepared for our group Seder. And we gather in the morning because, well, it’s a lot more realistic for us to do it during the workday

Every year I’m struck by the wisdom of people’s questions and insights, reflecting our professional backgrounds as well as our personal histories. Given our daily interactions with children exposed to domestic and community violence, refugees who recently fled their homelands, Holocaust survivors, and others, it’s powerful for us to reflect on how it’s possible for people to heal and move forward after they leave whatever “Egypt” they needed to escape. It’s also sobering to acknowledge the long and powerful echoes of trauma. The Passover story asserts that it takes several generations to truly internalize a new post-slavery way of being. In our work, we hold out the hope for healing and transformation in a shorter time frame, while understanding that profound changes do, in fact, take time.

This year, one therapist commented on the importance of telling the story of our slave past, rather than cloaking it with secrecy and stigma. How wise and powerful that we claim this story with pride, actively exploring how it should inform our actions in the present. And how deeply it resonates for our particular group of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Catholics, and others, deeply engaged in “welcoming the stranger” throughout the year.