Passover is sweeter when we celebrate our freedoms

Passover Greetings for 5781! And also a very happy Easter to my friends and loved ones celebrating that holiday. The Spring Equinox* is nothing to sneeze at, either, except, maybe, for the allergies, a little.

May spring offer hope, renewal, and joyous freedom to everyone reading this post.

You can gauge the season in my home by the drift of matzah crumbs across the kitchen floor. Note to those new to a cracker-based diet: no, it is never a wise idea to eat matzah without a plate for catching the inevitable crumbs. Don’t let my husband or children tell you otherwise!Passover Pesach matzah

In 2021, I found myself rueful that yet another פֶסַח Pesach would be celebrated without guests or even family. Due to necessary medical appointments, we were socially if not spiritually distanced even from my in-laws who live downstairs within our home as this holiday commenced.

Yet, still, we had so much for which to be grateful.

Chief among all blessings, the festival of liberation from bondage reminds me annually of my husband’s exodus from an oppressive regime which persecuted his family for its Jewish heritage. Thank God for a United States of America welcoming refugees! My husband, his beloved parents, and his grandmother z”l all benefited from that largess.

Anyone familiar with DH’s academic record knows how the USA benefits, in turn, from his ground-breaking scholarship in—and beyond—the natural sciences. Certainly, IMHO, the likelihood of international fame ought not be a prerequisite for offering refuge to “your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”** And yet, time and again, immigrants such as my husband prove their worth far beyond such beleaguered beginnings.

Cover of Richard Codor's Joyous Haggadah book

I hope that not a day goes by when I do not thank God for the blessing of my husband’s freedom, but I thank Passover for the fact that a year never could. The Haggadah—the story of Passover related by Jews at a סֵדֶר seder or order of telling—includes the answer, “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt” to the question asked by a child who can’t even formulate a question about what the holiday means.

“It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”

I must admit to not being particularly literal in my general understanding of the Torah. I believe God gave us a legacy of poetry, using metaphor to offer millennia’s worth of new understandings of the same old words, letting scripture rise to the occasion of ever-evolving human capacity.

And yet… in this case, I take scripture fairly literally. It is, frankly, because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt that everything else in my life carries so many of its multitudes of meaning.

That Egypt is a metaphor, yes. But, from where I sit, “Egypt” is a place I was, yet here I am, free.

Compared with 2020, I gave thanks in 2021 for plenty of capacity at the stores to get groceries delivered, and no shortages of either mundane or ritual items we needed for our seder.

At this time of year, in addition to counting my blessings, I am inclined to count my freedoms. The liturgy of the season Deuteronomy (26:5–8) includes the phrase:

God took us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:1-5 on the page

Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:5-8 on the pageUnderstanding the mighty/strong hand tends to be trivial. God is mighty; God is great. Translation doesn’t dilute this understanding much, in my experience.

The outstretched arm is, perhaps, less obvious, but sometimes more compelling, at least, to me.

You can find Jewish scholarship on the topic of the strong hand and outstretched arm all over the internet. But here’s what that extended arm means to me.

The outstretched arm reminds me of my obligation—always!— to reach out to the wider world. I believe I must use my personal freedom as a tool to work toward the liberation of others. At my seder, I can’t help but reflect upon current events. This year, that included paying attention to the illegal coup taking place in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

The New York Times reports that:

“Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. ”

When that didn’t work, the military junta that staged the coup in Myanmar—overthrowing the legitimate, democratically elected government—arrested more than 50 journalists for continuing to report the truth.

I wish I could do more than thumb my nose at these tyrants by defying their chosen vocabulary. This is the small strength of my individual hand, however, so that’s the little bit of power I will wield today.

Page view from Haggadah describing The Simple Child

After mentioning this outrage against human dignity, I’m also inspired to consider the question: Which child of the Passover seder am I aping, as I ask?

The Pesach Haggadah prompts us to answer questions about our liberation from slavery in Egypt for the benefit of four children: the one who is wise, a wicked child, a simple son, and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask what s/he needs to know.

Modernity offers most of us instant connections across the globe, yet few of us seem blessed with the wisdom to use what should probably be considered a superpower to its utmost. Staring at the atrocities in Myanmar, I wonder if I’m the child who can’t even formulate a sensible question.

Who should determine the form of government of any nation? Am I remiss in assuming the majority’s opinion offers the critical vote?

What is our obligation, as outsiders, to support those agitating and risking their lives in hopes of bringing democracy to a nation? Is it enough when I simply simply ponder their fate?

When are we called upon to act as opposed to bearing witness? How many civilians must a military coup murder before free people of the world feel obligated to take action?

Where should I draw the line between my own liberation and that of another oppressed person?

Why have I been blessed with so much more freedom than the people of Myanmar?

How can I make the world better given my limited strength and resources?

In this spring of optimism across the developed world as a pandemic God willing wanes, I hope those of us living in the bosom of privilege, safety, and freedom from want can provide some sort of meaningful support for those in  Myanmar and elsewhere living beneath a cloak of oppression.

* With a special nod to the pagan holiday of Ostara, aka Eostre, from which Christian Easter stole borrowed what it needed to convert the masses. Please note, friend Christians, that I don’t think Jesus himself is in any way incriminated in this wholesale holiday obfuscation. The social history is pretty fascinating, however, to a nerd like myself.

Hebrew acronym for zikhronah livrakha, meaning “May her memory be a blessing.” Read more about this Jewish acronym at My Jewish Learning dot com.

** Excerpted from Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, as etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Here’s one rabbi’s thought on understanding how translation affects a well known, widely “understood” passage such as the one I’ve quoted here.

Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.

Make America civil again

America is in the midst of a crisis. It’s a crisis of uncivil behavior.

Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Whether you feel undermined by shifting demographics in the United States of America or unhappy with the man who currently occupies the Oval Office, each of us is entitled to an opinion.

The First Amendment specifically protects our right to express these opinions freely. The language is unambiguous, and our democratic republic can never be considered secure where this right is threatened.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

copied from official US government site archives.gov (emphasis mine)

When any individual or group employs harassment and violence against another in an attempt to silence peaceful expression of free speech, the aggressor is the greatest threat to American values and freedom. Continue reading

Vote because it is your civic duty; your freedom depends upon it

Many reasons have been given for “why” each of us should vote. There’s really only one: a representative government cannot exist without input from the people. If we don’t accept our responsibility to speak up at the polls, we’re literally asking for the oligarchy to usurp our agency.

define oligarchydefine agencyUnless you are seeking to overthrow our entire system of government, you need to vote to make our republic work. Even if you are happy with the status quo, you should be expressing your pleasure with a vote for the incumbent(s). If you object to what Washington is doing, complain after you get yourself to the polls to put your opinions in writing!

USA flag - 1The United States isn’t a direct democracy, of course, but a representative one wherein we elect others to do the work of governing on our behalf. Whether you are for or against the size of the current government and its many agencies, your role in the system remains unchanged. You vote as a signal for your representatives to follow.

Failing to vote is really a failure to uphold the American value system as a whole. It suggests that our founders were mistaken when they rebelled against monarchy and taxation without representation. Not voting is a demand that someone else usurp your power; specifically, your right to self-governance.

USA flag flying on pole OhioThis right is the linchpin to what made America great. I’d argue that the ideas that “all men are created equal” and that our leaders are only “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed have been our most valuable export. When only a minority of American citizens exercise the right to vote, we really aren’t acting like a nation of free men and women with any justification for world leadership.

You want to make America great “again”? And I disagree, by the way, with the use of the past tense in that statement!

  • Vote in every election, not just presidential ones every four years, but also for local matters.
  • Vote for what you believe, not against someone or something you’ve decided to unilaterally hate.
  • Use your mind to evaluate the issues; plumb your soul to balance practical realities against thorny moral questions.

I voted Election sticker - 1Vote because you can, and because you owe it to your nation and its continued successes, for yourself, and for every other American besides.

Your freedom depends upon it! Not because someone else is acting to take it, but because you are considering giving it away through inaction.

Let freedom ring; give it your own voice.

And if you couldn’t be bothered to vote when you had the right to do so, don’t even try to engage in political debate with me. I consider you to have abdicated the right for me to hear your opinions by your inaction on Election Day.

Freedom or equality? Leadership or charlatanism? The True Believer and its relevance today

In The True Believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements, Eric Hoffer wrote:

29.

Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority.

Equality without freedom creates a more stable social pattern than freedom without equality.

This is a thought I spent a lot of time with. It’s one to roll around in your mind for a bit and savor. It isn’t obvious, but it seems likely to be true.

What do we do with this fact if it is accurate? Does it help us create the society we want? Is there anything we can do about it if it doesn’t?

Get the book from Amazon here, or borrow it from your local library like I did.

When I first started my blog, Really Wonderful Things, many months ago, I also started browsing and following many others via the WordPress Reader. One of those blogs led me to The True Believer, though I failed to note the link and can’t find it now.

This is one of the most powerful reads I’ve enjoyed in the past several years. I made note of nine sections in a file I keep for absolutely brilliant thoughts. I noted excerpts from §12, 18, 29 (above), 30, 47, 56, 91, 93, and 98.

As I understand it, Eric Hoffer was a self-taught philosopher employed as a manual laborer. His book became a bestseller after President Eisenhower quoted it in a speech.

I don’t typically read Philosophy for entertainment. I’m simply not drawn to the abstruseness of others, preferring instead to wade through disparate straightforward and concrete facts to construct my own syntheses. It’s how I keep myself entertained as a stay at home mom.

Here is a plainly written collection of observations on the nature of mass movements that, at least in my opinion, still speaks directly to some of the major issues of our time.

I’ll leave you with this thought on political leaders and why they can get away with blatant untruths:

91.

…The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.

Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movements without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts. No solid, tangible advantage can hold a following and make it zealous and loyal unto death.

Does it strike you as relevant to current world leaders?