It’s a Good Friday for a Seder

Passover and Easter are highly charged religious holidays. This year, the first Seder falls on Good Friday and it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on some surprising similarities between the Jewish and Christian springtime commemorations.

Both memorialize important historical events central to the identity and belief systems of Judaism and Christianity. For Jews, the Passover tradition is a powerful link that defines us and binds us as a people to each other and to God. We share the retelling of our Exodus from bondage in Egypt when God promised to save us and we were delivered from slavery to freedom. For Christians, the week of important historical events leading to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is the backbone of their narrative as a people. Both stories are full of pain; both stories transform that pain into salvation.

Like Passover, Easter centers on the family and food. The Seder and Easter dinner are sacred times for families to gather, share a meal and renew their connection to their heritage through ceremony. Both holidays transform bread into ritual symbols. We eat unleavened bread, or matzah, to remember our ancestors who fled so quickly they did not have time to let their bread rise. Matzah is both the bread of our affliction and the sustenance of our freedom. For Christians, too, bread is both sacrament and sacrifice in the form of the Holy Eucharist, a wafer that represents Christ’s body.

Finally, both holidays acknowledge reverence for springtime, the season of renewal and rebirth. The egg, symbol of fertility and new life, plays a prominent role at the Seder as we dip a hardboiled egg in salt water to symbolize both new life and sacrifice. After the meatless (and eggless) Lenten fast, eggs became a staple of the Easter meal to celebrate the end of the privation of Lent. Today, dyeing Easter eggs celebrates rebirth through rededication of faith.

While we are certainly aware of the stark religious differences between Jews and Christians that Easter crystallizes, perhaps this year when we sit down to our Seder on Good Friday, maybe even as an interfaith family, we might focus as well on the commonalities that transcend those distinctions. We all cherish freedom, we all love God and, especially this year, we all revere spring.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on April 2, 2015.

New Haggadah is A Feast for the Senses

We Erica Brown fans are in for a special treat this Passover. The gifted columnist has penned “Seder Talk” with her usual flair for combining the sensitive, scholarly and practical. The result is a Haggada with a fresh approach that is as imaginative as it is traditional, as educational as it is emotional; in short, it is a book with something for everyone.

Brown’s book is really two books bound as one. “Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada” is a commentary on the Haggada text that opens as a Hebrew text, from right to left. Chockful of poetry, songs and rabbinic readings, this Haggada also explains the meaning of the various seder rituals in a simple, informal style. The most engaging and distinctive, however, are the conversational cues interspersed throughout the text that, in signature Brown style, provide moments and roadmaps for celebrants to pause, reflect and share aloud. This is the stuff memorable seders are made of. There are also more personal life-homework exercises that promote greater mindfulness, intention and inner freedom.

The second book-within-abook, which opens from the other cover, contains eight essays, one for each of the eight days of Passover. Only Brown would think to start her first essay, “All Who Are Hungry,” with this perfect seder icebreaker, a quote from Oscar Wilde: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” Other essays are titled, “The Four Sons, the Right Question,” “Slave Wealth” and “Pour Out Your Wrath, Pour Out Your Love.”

Brown is a deep Judaic thinker and a respected author and educator. She has created a delightful new Haggada that belongs on the bedside reading pile, long after Passover has passed.

Pictured at top: Seder Talk The Conversational Haggada by Erica Brown. Maggid Books and OU Press, 2015