Jewish holidays as transformation and community building

Passover is just ending for this year, and I had been thinking, for no particular reason, about feeling a lack of connection with my ancestors; not having any descendants myself either. I was thinking that I didn’t have a way to talk about, approach, the historical trauma that affects me as a Jew.

We had had a really good seder on the first night, and I felt connected with both the ancient story and the modern freedom songs and the poetry (especially Irena Klepfisz’s Bashert) included in the Haggadah we use.

And it came to me that Passover itself is a ritual for the transformation of historical trauma. That this has been here in plain sight, and I was already participating in it. We have the container within our own culture, and we can make it more meaningful (I can make it more meaningful) by acknowledging that this is what it is.

That is my connection with the ancestors, and they gave it to me just as I was feeling the need for it.

Other Jewish holidays that commemorate liberation from oppression – Chanukah and Purim – are different kinds of transformation rituals. Now I’ve just been through Pesach, so am in the grip of this one which is the most intense and even grueling.

Then I think that Shavuot and Succot are nation-building or people-building rituals. And our high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are community-building more than they are simply a matter of inward contemplation. We ask one another for forgiveness, we ask forgiveness in community. These are all part of the transformation of historical trauma as well. Building community is the nurturance we need, after we have been through hell and come out alive.

Even the story of the Akedah, which we retell on Rosh Hashanah, we tell in order to emphasize that the sacrifice did not take place.

There is something in this that nourishes me and leads me out into the place where I am born, where I am connected to the whole and enter into community that is mine.

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