The twenty people around the Seder table produce more noise than one would expect. Actually, we are too many people to sit around one shared table. Instead we are sitting in an “I” formation using three separate tables, a solution I expect my mother-in-law perfected over many years. The rest of the furniture that usually sits in this room has been cleared out so all of us can squeeze into this space.
I look up towards the head of the table and notice the oil painting of flowers hangs tilted and unmoored as a result of the shuffling around of the usual furniture.
Matching tablecloths are covered with the necessary paraphernalia of any Passover Seder. There are neatly stacked matzos, bowls of fiery red horseradish, charosis, bitter herbs and salt water. Everything on the table is symbolic of something else.
The entire holiday is symbolic of something else.
I have not gathered with this large a family group in many years. There are my immediate family members for whom I have trembled through a plane flight to experience the joy of sitting with them on this holiday.
I see my mother-in-law, who is grateful to have the strength to gather her family around her once again.
There are many relatives and friends. The conversation volume is astounding. Sitting at my end of the table, I can’t hear most of what is said, but I do catch the passionate tone. Strong feelings and firm opinions. Family.
We share the story of Passover. We eat certain foods, representative of historical happenings. Salt water represents tears. Bitter foods represent the bitterness of slavery. Matzo represents the desperate flight of downtrodden oppressed people escaping death and slavery from those who have imprisoned them.
We are fortunate, mostly healthy, well-fed, argumentative, strong-willed, free individuals.
The entire gathering is symbolic of something else.
It represents the right to freedom and self-volition for all of us.
Not just all of us at the table.
But all people everywhere throughout the world.
As Jews during Passover we say, “Once we were slaves, now we are free.”
It is important to remember, but it is even more important to recognize the lack of freedom so many people in the world still face.
Huge numbers of refugees are leaving their homes and searching for the place they can live as they desire. They all want the opportunity to sit around a table and discuss, argue, laugh and sing with family and friends.
Everyone, everywhere, deserves the chance to lean back, laden with traditional foods and replete with wine and conversation.
We all deserve to be free. We all deserve a seat at the table, safe and well-fed among family and friends.
This Jewish holiday of Passover is a holiday of freedom. It is a holiday of looking back.
But it also needs to be a holiday of looking forward, and not just for those who are like us, but also for those who are not.
At the end of the meal we share the traditional Passover toast.
“Next year in Jerusalem.”
Next year, I silently wish, we should all be in whatever place represents freedom and fulfillment for each of us.
Everything in this holiday is symbolic of something else.
Sitting with family is my private “Jerusalem.”
I offer this holiday wish for the wanderers, seekers and refugees of the world.
Next year in “Jerusalem.” Where ever that may be for you.