Each year, around this time, I think back to one of my fondest childhood memories. No, it was not on a trip to Disneyland or being on the baseball field. It was actually at my grandparent's house in Oakland. We are sitting around their dining room table. My grandfather, the family's patriarch, is seated at one end of the table, while my grandmother, the matriarch, is at the other. Around the rest of the table are my parents, aunt, cousins, brother, and me. I don't quite remember precisely what year it is, but I believe I am about seven or eight. The table is draped with a beautiful tablecloth and is elegantly set for an important occasion.
The scene I have just described is one of the many Passover seders my family had together. Although we all lived within about 45 minutes of each other, it was special every time we got together. But, for me, it was never more meaningful than Passover.
Passover has always had a special place in my heart. Maybe it was because of our family seders or the knowledge that other Jewish families were doing the same thing as we were. Or that this holiday ties us more directly to our history than any other. Whatever the case, I would look forward to it each year. The matzah ball soup, the brisket, the little fruit-shaped gel candies (I still look forward to tasting them today), my dad's matzah brei, and other Passover-related foods bring back strong memories for me. When I was in elementary school, my parents sent me with two bags of matzah – one for me to eat and one to share with my friends.
National studies continue to show me that I am not alone. Passover continues to be THE Jewish holiday that Jews celebrate, far surpassing even Hanukkah. I have a theory as to why this is. Not only does this holiday revolve around our history, the idea of freedom, and our struggle to achieve it, but also because of the food and traditions.
Judaism is built around the idea that being part of a community is essential. So, for example, although we are commanded to pray three times a day, which is often done in private, certain prayers cannot be said unless there is a minyan (a group of 10 Jews). The minyan is meant to represent the community. And no holiday celebrates community more than Passover. In fact, we are encouraged to welcome the stranger into our homes, and this often occurs, especially in college towns where people open their homes so people who do not have family nearby have a place to celebrate Passover with others.
So, this year, as you go through the Passover seder, I encourage you to enjoy the Passover food and celebrate being part of an incredible community.
On behalf of myself and the Jewish Federation's Board of Governors and Staff, may this year's Passover celebration be a festive one, surrounded by family and friends. We feel fortunate to have you in our community.