Ever since I was a child, Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday and — despite an aversion to horseradish — I always look forward to my yearly Hillel sandwich, marror and all. While Hanukkah seems like an obvious choice for most (jelly donuts, miracles, and eight nights of presents), nothing could replace the beautifully set table, hunt for the Afikomen, my grandma’s chocolate flourless cake, and four cups of Kedem grape juice. The Passover Seder’s appeal stood in its comfortable ritual, a chance for family and friends to come together with food and drink and laughter as we celebrated our Jewish past and present.
Passover serves as a reminder not only of where we as a Jewish people have been, from slavery in Egypt and exiled from Eretz Yisrael to the barracks of Auchwitz, but also of the sheer awe of where we are today. Many Jews like to joke that most of our holidays can be summed up with the phrase, “Someone tried to kill us, we survived, so let’s eat!” and during Passover the collective Jewish conscious is acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be here today. We are commanded to tell our children of how God freed “us”, not our ancestors, but “us” from Egypt. I like to think that this sense of collective freedom, the idea that we are inextricably connected to the Jews who came before us, is what raises our consciousness to contemporary struggles for freedom around the world.
During the Cold War, Passover was a time when American Jews recognized the struggles of the Soviet Jewry and prayed for their freedom. I believe this collective consciousness has become more in tune with the struggles of those experiencing oppression here and abroad. Many of us participate in social justice oriented Seders that aim to contemplate, discuss, and work to end the struggles affecting women, the LGBTQ community, workers, and all victims of oppression worldwide.
My hope is that the collective Jewish consciousness raised during these eight days stays with us and that we are inspired to count our blessings while working to end injustice everywhere.
Stephanie Cohen, from Rolling Hills Estates, CA, attended Georgetown University and is a Programs Associate at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School.