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April 13, 2020 8:21 am

Celebrating Passover Amid Coronavirus — and Changing for the Better

avatar by Cliff Rieders

Opinion

A small number of Jewish worshippers pray during the priestly blessing, a traditional prayer which usually attracts thousands of worshippers at the Western Wall on the holiday of Passover, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 12, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

This year, we celebrated Passover in Israel because our flights back to the United States were canceled due to the coronavirus. Passover is an easily defined holiday for Jews — it is the holiday of freedom.

The founders of our great American republic saw themselves as the Israelites, coming from bondage to freedom. The Pilgrims saw themselves that way, and so did the Quakers and many others. One of the earliest suggestions for the seal of the new United States was Moses parting the Red Sea.

President Franklin Roosevelt famously articulated the Four Freedoms on Monday, January 6, 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The speech was delivered only 11 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

We can think of the freedoms we long for today: freedom of choice; freedom from confinement; freedom from fear; freedom from disease; and eventually freedom from government restrictions, even though they’re necessary.

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Perhaps in America we do not think enough about our freedom. We often hear the trite expression that “freedom is not free.” It is of course beyond question that freedom has taken the sacrifice of many millions of Americans over a period of more than 200 years. That is freedom in the macro sense. Today, we think about the micro component of freedom. Our freedom of movement is severely restricted. We feel confined, threatened, and fearful.

The Passover seder represents a time when the Jews left Egypt as a formerly enslaved people, not yet used to the privileges and responsibility of freedom. Initially, they questioned everything, and sometimes they did not even understand the significance of the miracles which brought them as wanderers into the desert seeking the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey.

Jews in Israel are acutely aware of their responsibility to the rest of the world. Israel sets an example of a robust, free democracy surrounded by a sea of hatred and malcontent.

Americans who are not celebrating Passover but who celebrated Easter and its message of rebirth can also join as brothers and sisters with the Jewish community in appreciating our freedom, and in focusing on how we can make our country and our lives better after the immediate threat of the current pandemic is lifted. How are we going to be better? How are we going to change? What resolutions will we make that we keep, and what resolutions will we make that we cannot keep?

I have taken to making a list of things I would like to see changed in my personal approach, in the way that my business is run and in my community. That is taking on enough. I would like to see plenty of changes on the national and international levels, but if I can just change two or three things in a significant way that improves the quality of my life and the lives of the people around me, that would be very big.

Each day, we read more and more bad news about death and suffering in our immediate community, in Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world at large. Perhaps as a civilization and society, we can think about being kinder to our world and more attentive to the spread of disease among the many billions of people whose health we are now the stewards of. When we get back to full steam in the great United States of America, what will we do to prepare for future threats?

Perhaps this is the time to put the lid on the nuclear genie and get serious about shutting down nuclear proliferation. Countries like Iran must be sanctioned until they give up their nuclear ambitions. The great world powers need to cooperate on this goal, and it needs to be an apolitical destination as well.

The question of environmental damage and global warming are issues that we should also think about when we have time to tackle other great problems.

I once heard a rabbi give a cute sermon in which he said God always taps us on the shoulder first. If we do not listen, we may get a nudge; and finally, we will get hit over the head with a two-by-four. Maybe it is time that we sit up and actually see what is going on in the world around us?

I hope you are all having a blessed, peaceful, happy, and healthy Passover.

Cliff Reiders, Esq. is a ZOA National Board member and partner at the Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann law firm.

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