For non-religious Jews, Passover is a holiday that reminds them of their Jewish tradition; deplorable hate crimes like the anti-Semitic shootings in Kansas yesterday also remind Jews that traditions of hatred still exist. If anything, Passover (and Easter) should convey the need for religious tolerance and the unacceptability of violence in the name of religion that the Kansas shooting represents.
Tonight’s start of Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) comes the day after three people were killed in Overland Park, Kan., at a Jewish Community Center and at a Jewish retirement home. Reports from Kansas are that the elderly assailant, who has been identified as a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, was shouting anti-Semitic slurs.
President Barack Obama commented at an Easter season prayer breakfast today that religious-based hatred and anti-Semitism are deplorable. He asked that Americans open their hearts to the families of the victims and stand united against this kind of violence, which should have no place in society. He also noted that synagogues and Jewish community centers would undoubtedly feel the need to beef up security for Passover. People should not “have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers,” remarked Obama.
Most Jews do not regularly attend religious services and they tend to be less religious than the U.S. public as a whole. But there are certain things that unite them in their beliefs and sense of religious identity, according to Pew Research Center. These essential elements that convey Jewish meaning include Passover, when 70 percent of Jews participate in a Pesach Seder or meal each year; remembering the Holocaust which is readily brought to mind by religious hate crimes like the Kansas shooting on Sunday; and teaching children and ourselves tolerance for and desire to help others.
During the Passover Seder, which is held the first two nights of Passover, the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago is retold and prayers commemorate the trauma of persecution and hatred. Families sit around the table, not in temple, to discuss themes of religious intolerance, escape from tyranny and beginning anew.
Passover has changed, at least in the U.S., in recent decades. The week-long holiday, in which several kinds of grain and foods that are not “Kosher for Passover” are forbidden, used to mean a diet of matzo, eggs, chicken, meat, fruit and macaroons. Nowadays, with the year-round availability of many fruits, vegetables and breakthroughs in food technology, the options are pretty limitless as long as one avoids breads. Stores now carry more than 20,000 official Passover food items for sale besides basic produce, according to Menachem Lubinsky, a kosher marketing expert. In fact, the holiday accounts for 40 percent of annual U.S. kosher food sales, or approximately $1.1 billion worth, Lubinsky noted.
The Seder involves rituals of eating specific foods and saying prayers. In addition, an important Seder theme is that Jews, who were once strangers in Egypt, must love strangers and fight for others who are oppressed or have no voice. Passover serves as a reminder to Jews of lessons taken from a history of oppression to protect others from injustices. This year, undoubtedly, as people in Kansas gather to bury the dead, the shooting served to convey a Passover message of the need for religious tolerance and protecting strangers to all Americans.
Opinion By Dyanne Weiss