Finding Support in the Passover Haggadah

Passover
By Beth Fishman, PhD, Manager Addiction Services and Janet Ogron, Jewish Community Liaison

The Passover seder tells the story of the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, using symbolic foods, stories, songs, and prayers. The haggadah is the guidebook of the seder. Haggadah means “telling” in Hebrew and refers to the service or script for the Passover seder. During the reading of the story of the Exodus, we are encouraged to experience the story as if we too are part of the Exodus, right here, right now. We are encouraged to remember our time as slaves. We are to bring the experience of slavery, of a difficult journey, and the ultimate release into freedom deeply into our present moment.

Thousands of different haggadot exist, and though each is unique, the scaffold on which they rest is the same. Similarly, Passover’s central theme of the journey to freedom has inspired many haggadot that address contemporary concerns related to slavery and freedom and allow us to enter the Passover story very personally. In the desire to explore our own internal bondage, one can lead an open discussion at the seder table based on concepts of “freedom to” and “freedom from.”  We can explore ways in which aspire toward freedom to be fully ourselves, to learn about our realities and that of others, to ask questions about hard topics with compassion, and to answer questions with honesty and courage. We can explore ways in which we experience or aspire toward freedom from ways in which we hide parts of ourselves and pretend to be who or what we’re not for fear of other’s negative reactions. 

JCFS supports Chicago’s Jewish community members on many paths from constriction to expansion. In this spirit, we offer links to haggadot and Passover readings that reflect both ancient and contemporary ways that we experience bondage, the struggle for freedom, and ultimate liberation from slavery.  These resources can allow us to learn, discuss, confront shame and stigma, and bring our whole selves to our People’s historical narrative. We invite you to consider using these and other creative activities to explore your own journey with those at your seder table. May your journey to your own personal freedom continue ever onward, strengthening our community’s experience of liberation. May you find the chevra (friends) and kehilla (community) you need along the way; may we lift each other up and come to the Promised Land together in peace and joy.

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