Passover: a Celebration of Freedom
Passover runs from 8 to 16 April 2020
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore our understanding of the Jewish festival of Passover.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
Leader: Can you imagine what it must be like to gain your freedom? It would be worth a celebration.
Reader 1: Every year, on 8 May, French people celebrate Victory Day to mark the day in 1945 when General Charles de Gaulle announced that the nation was finally free from Nazi rule.
Reader 2: In December 1865, when slavery was abolished in the USA, there were celebrations throughout the country.
Reader 1: In South Africa, 27 April is celebrated as Freedom Day. It commemorates the nation’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994.
Reader 2: In the UK, on 2 July, many people celebrate the day in 1928 when the Equal Franchise Act was given royal assent. The Act gave women electoral equality with men, which meant that many women had the freedom to vote for the very first time.
Leader: We may all have our own freedom celebrations. It could be on a Friday at the end of school when we are free for the weekend, or at the end of the summer term when the long holiday stretches in front of us. We may be longing for the moment when we leave home to go to university so that we can be free to make our own decisions. Alternatively, we may feel relief when we gain freedom from a difficult relationship.
Today, we’re going to look at a celebration of freedom that dates much further back. This year, from sunset on Wednesday 8 April to nightfall on Thursday 16 April, Jewish people will be celebrating their annual festival of Passover. It’s their freedom celebration.
The Old Testament book of Exodus, which is shared by Jews and Christians, relates how the Israelite nation made a journey that led them from a life of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Before the journey began, one devastating night, God struck dead the firstborn of every Egyptian family and every animal. However, no Israelite child died because every Israelite family had been instructed to mark their doorposts with blood, so God ‘passed over’ them. This is where Passover takes its name from; in Hebrew, the festival is called Pesach.
Passover begins and ends with a meal, the seder. It consists of a series of ritual foods, each connected with the escape from Egypt. There is roasted meat, egg, vegetables, bitter herbs and a sweet paste. The food is eaten with unleavened bread - bread that is made without yeast - because the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry, so their bread didn’t have time to rise before they fled. During the meal, the Exodus story is retold and traditional songs are sung.
Food is an important part of the whole Passover week, so families gather to share meals and celebrate their Jewish identity. It’s a festival that is celebrated at home. This celebration of freedom from slavery in Egypt is central to what it means to be Jewish.
Time for reflection
So, what about our freedom? Thankfully, ours is a free country where most of us can live without the fear of slavery or war and where there are laws that envision equality for all, regardless of gender, race or religion. However, do we recognize that this freedom FROM also contains the freedom TO?
What do I mean? Well, for one thing, the freedom that we have is fragile. Even in our free country, there is injustice, prejudice and dominance. Everyone is not equal. Privilege, wealth and power can all be misused. There are those who would exploit our differences so that they can divide communities. There are those who would try to make us slaves to substances, shopping and social media. It’s only when we assert our right to be our true selves that we can be really free. This may mean that we offer a quiet word of advice to someone we feel is acting inappropriately or inform those who have the authority to intervene.
Second, there are many parts of the world where freedom is still far from a reality. Some of us may have family members who live in countries where freedom is restricted in some way. We have the freedom to encourage our churches and other faith centres, our government and charities to support those who cry out for freedom like ours. Phone calls, letters, emails and messages can all make a difference.
Third, let’s act like free people. Let’s be brave about saying no to anyone who would try to rob us of who we are and what we have the freedom to do.
Thank you for our personal freedom to believe, dream, say and do.
Remind us of those who are still enslaved and give us the opportunity to help them in any way we can.
‘Do you hear the people sing?’ from the musical Les Misérables. A version is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMYNfQlf1H8 (3.03 minutes long, although the song ends at 2.08 minutes)