When thinking about and preparing for Passover, it’s easy to get lost in the details and to forget why this holiday even matters. You might get stuck worrying and asking…how clean is your house? How do you host the “perfect” seder? What foods can you and can’t you eat? Let’s ask another question: What is the meaning of Passover?
Passover is about freedom, as we celebrate a group of people who escaped slavery and persecution. It’s about justice, redemption and leaving behind our struggles—just as the Jews in Egypt did—in order to become who we’re all are meant to be. It’s about asking questions and figuring out our identities.
The seder, the food, the stories—they’re just ways of moving toward meaning. Some Passover themes may resonate with you and your family more this year, or next year, than it did previously. How will you focus on the meaning of Passover this year?
One way we demonstrate our freedom at the seder, throughout the holiday and throughout Jewish experiences is by asking questions. Questions show we are free-thinking people not constrained by anyone else’s rules, and that we are no longer slaves in the land of Egypt. Whether this is your first seder or your 50th, there’s always something new to learn and to ask.
The seder begins with asking questions, and it continues, in many families, as a free form discussion where no questions are off-limits. Some seder hosts even reward guests by tossing a piece of candy to anyone who interrupts to ask a question.
Don’t be afraid to let seder conversations veer far off from the traditional Exodus story, as you mind find hidden meanings behind the Passover story that you never knew existed. If a topic that arises feels relevant and interesting to everybody, it’s encouraged to explore the conversation deeper. Encouraging family and friends to share their own thoughts and ideas, even if not directly connected to the seder itself, can help everyone feel involved. It can also help this Jewish ritual feel relevant and accessible for everyone at the table.
If you have a question about a part of the seder or story, there’s a good chance someone else has the same question, too. And If you have a more philosophical question about theology or the meaning of life, go for it! Your initiative may create an atmosphere where others also feel comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts. It not only sets the tone, but is also a chance to inspire others at the table to get to know each other over a more welcoming environment. As long as they are asked with a spirit of respect and interest, at the seder, all questions are good questions.
Passover is a holiday about figuring out who we are—from the past to the present. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, their identity was shaped by slavery. When they left Egypt and crossed through the Sea of Reeds (often mistranslated as the Red Sea) into the desert, they began to form an identity as free people united by distinct beliefs and experiences.
We’ve stressed that the Passover story is one of freedom, but it is also just as much a story about becoming who we are and who we want to be. It’s a story of journeys and identities, of shaping and claiming our own story. And for interfaith families, Passover is an opportunity to share your unique spiritual journeys with family and friends. It’s a chance to pause, reflect and ask: What is my family identity?
Passover provides an opportunity to talk about multiculturalism, given that Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s family and married a woman from a different culture. Passover can provide the backdrop to discuss relationships, beliefs and the foundational stories that make us who we are.
What matters isn’t that you stress yourself with the endless possible rules of this holiday. Instead, this is an opportunity to reflect on the many ways to think about Passover and to think about how this story of freedom impacts your life—from your privileges to your inhibitions. Whether you celebrate Passover with family, friends, your community, at home or someone else’s home, let the meaning of Passover guide you toward a meaningful experience and interaction with this foundational Jewish story.
Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families