Passover and the two fall celebrations of Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanah are the holiest days in the Jewish year, the high holidays. Many religions welcome the spring with rituals that reach into much earlier times. Jews celebrate for eight days the story of their liberation from slavery by God, who passed over Jewish homes when he killed the first-born children of the Egyptians. Religious observance takes place at home, and is focused on one highly ritualized meal, the Seder dinner, usually on the first night of Passover.
For many hundreds of years, when they ate the bitter herbs Jews thought of the persecution they suffered as a religious minority by the Christian majority across Europe and America. After the Holocaust, the widespread oppression of Jews has disappeared, just in my lifetime. Jewish families in most places in the world no longer yearn to be liberated.
As Jews in the US have shifted our liberationist gaze from ourselves outward to others, demand has grown for new versions of the Passover text, the Haggadah. The civil rights movements which took off in the 1960s, supported then by most Jewish Americans, influenced what Jews recited and thought about at Passover dinner. Modern texts eliminate the sexist language of the traditional Haggadah and honor female biblical figures, such as Miriam, sister of Moses.
The tragedy of Nazi genocide, which touched nearly every Jewish family, the welcoming of immigrants into the US, and the promise of freedom for all that America embodies have all influenced the political beliefs of American Jews. A poll taken last month by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that one of the most important political values among Jews is “welcoming the stranger”, which 72% think is important.
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