Dear Friends, Reflections on Pesach 5779 (2019)

While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur often get the glory as our “High Holydays,” it was Pesach and Suk-kot, in ancient, agricultural times, that were the most-grand of our Festivals. These holidays, together with Shavuot, were the days that our ancestors walked to Jerusalem, making a Pilgrimage to the holy Temple. Pesach – whose nicknames include the “Festival of Freedom” and the “Festival of Spring” falls in the first month of the year, according to the Torah. After six months of the Israelites being spread out across the land, unable to communicate, the holiday, among other things, was a chance for a nationwide “family reunion.”

So, too, today. Did you know that over 70% of American Jews participate in a Passover Seder, according to the Pew Research Center? This year, for the first time in quite a number of years, JCCH hosted a 2nd Seder. And what a time we had! Nearly one hundred of us gathered for a spirited evening of good company, serious contemplation of the themes of the Seder, excellent food, many costumes, engaging activities for the 25+ kids and wonderful music. Yes, Cantor Marcos did actually lead us in “Take Me Out To The Seder,” alongside the more traditional tunes. We were particularly honored to have our adopted Afghan refugee family, the Ahmadis, with us. A giant Toddah Rabbah/Thank You to Jane Alpert and Melissa Hein for co-chairing our Seder.

Apart from the Seder, let us consider some other elements of our Pesach observance at home and, this year, at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison. Our Pesach plans go into high gear immediately after Purim. In my family, this includes a moratorium on Costco shopping. We try to finish as much of our Chametz – leaven products – as possible; it’s nice to empty the pantry completely once a year. Chametz that is not consumed is traditionally burned, Biyur Chametz. This year, the Harrison Volunteer Fire Department assisted our Kehilah School stu-dents with a pre-Pesach Chametz-burning bonfire. The morning before the First Seder includes a special service for the Firstborn, reflecting on the saving of the Israelite firstborn children from the final Plague. Of the eight days of Pesach, four are consider “Yom Tov” – on a ritually higher level – and four are referred to as Chol Hamoed, the interim days. The interme-diate days are always wonderful opportunities for family time and travel. If you’ve been to a zoo, an aquarium or an amusement park during these days, you have seen Orthodox Jews descend in droves on these locations. JCCH began Chol Hamoed with a Commuter Matzah give away on Monday morning at the Harrison train station; we were happy to fortify our members heading into their offices for the week of work.

The four Yom Tov days included spirited and well-attended services each day. On the first day, we studied a Conservative Movement “responsa” essay on how and whether to begin a Seder when it is not yet dark outside, so that children can participate most-fully. Cantor Marcos also led us that day in the recitation of the traditional “Tal” prayer, asking the dew be plentiful in the land of Israel as the dry season begins. On the second day of the Festival, we were so fortunate to explore a unique Haggadah on loan to us from Rona Javitch – the illuminated Lovell Haggadah. This Haggadah was created by Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, the same artist who conceived our magnificent Sanctuary artwork. Day Seven of Pesach included an exploration of the little-known (in Ashkenazi circles) holiday of Mimouna – a Moroccan observance that takes place on the first day after the Festival. We also read from the Biblical Song of Songs. Day Eight of Pesach always includes the Yizkor Memorial prayers – a chance to recall the memory of our loved ones on holiday times, when their absence is often most palpable.

This year, Pesach included a good number of Simchas (happy occasions). We gave Joel Rotner the prestigious Claremon Award, recognizing his decades of service to the community. Mazal tov to the Leffler/Steinman families on the arrival of Leo! We held Leo’s bris and a kosher-for-Pesach feast at the synagogue on Monday of Pesach. Another Mazal Tov to the Beck/Rubin family as we celebrated Amanda’s Auf Ruf during Pesach morning services. The Margolis family planned their second-year-in-a-row babynaming dur-ing Pesach services as well! Our BBYO teens had a Pesach Chocolate Seder (imagine, four cups of chocolate milk!) and even our Canasta and Mah Jong players had Pesach snacks powering them through their marathon games.

L’Shana Ha’baah B’Yerushalayim – Next Year in Jerusalem! If we don’t make it to Jerusalem next Pesach (as some of our members were lucky enough to do this year!), let’s plan another fun and full Pesach right here in Harrison!

Rabbi Eytan Hammerman