- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

Excerpts from a Sabbath sermon by Rabbi Marvin I. Bash given Saturday at the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation in Arlington, Va.

It's time to reflect upon the recent Passover holiday, when we were reminded of our ancestors' struggle for human dignity and survival. We remembered Pharaoh's plan to weaken and subjugate the Hebrews. The Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had used exacting taskmasters to enslave and impoverish the Israelites.

During the Seder meal, we read from the Haggadah, and heard this story of hardships, of bitterness, and finally of liberation. It was a wonderful time for family and friends. We gathered and rejoiced in this redemption achieved 3,200 years ago. But there is something paradoxical about our observance. Does the teaching of our peoples' Passover plight coincide with our method of observance?

We sit down to a handsomely decorated table with fine china and silverware, cups of exquisite wine, topped off by a sumptuous dinner and rich deserts. Yet all along, in the reading of the Haggadah, the Passover story focuses us on the needs of the downtrodden and impoverished. The contrast between our words and the setting is inordinate.

A recent story in the New York Times, with a dateline in Fort Lauderdale, says this: "Jewish families are now jetting off to an increasing number of luxury destinations in Arizona, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, the Caribbean, Switzerland and Italy that cater to the Passover crowd… . Travel agents who specialize in a Jewish clientele estimate that Passover travel has increased 40 to 50 percent in the last 10 years."

The Bible teaches us to remember the stranger because "ye were strangers in a foreign land." Likewise, the Haggadah focuses on slavery, poverty and the plagues in Egypt so we can identify with those who are subject to these burdens.

In our world today people are still dehumanized by "ethnic cleansing," by raping of women by soldiers, by tyrannical leaders. There is starvation in Africa and an emergency situation now in Mozambique. We have the homeless, those who are exploited and enslaved by drugs, those who are victims of crime. There are many who lost homes to fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Why then are we sitting at the Seder enjoying ourselves? We should be helping them rebuild and relocate and reconstruct their shattered lives and spirits. Maybe we should skip the Seders, or at least one of them, and spend the time translating Jewish values into programs of social action.

In order to shake people up, I have advocated a change to only one traditional Seder with the Haggadah reading limited in decoration and food, and a second Seder of social action. We can continue to link ourselves to the past but fulfill our mission of helping others less fortunate than ourselves… .

Why are we so apathetic? … If the U.S. can spend hundreds of millions on one child, Elian Gonzales, and worry about his psychological discomfort, how much more so should we be concerned with the discomfort of thousands of other children, their siblings and immediate relatives? … Why don't the ex-Cubans take to the streets, like they did in Little Havana, to stand up for thousands of children who work as slave labor, in sweat shops, or are coerced into being drug couriers and into prostitution.

The chasm between the values we espouse and the values we live by is very great indeed. One of the lessons of Passover is not to pass over its lessons. We enact the story through ritual to recall its lessons. We dramatize its teachings.

We ask everyone to taste the bitterness [of herbs]. We ask everyone to eat the bread of affliction. We have to have our people translate this dramatic historical recreation into a real program and successful drama for today. Then the Passover shall be a true time of freedom and redemption.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. David Bird at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown.

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