Freedom in lockdown?

Rabbi René’s reflections for Pesach 5781/2021

There is something utterly comforting in the endless cycle of Shabbats and festivals.
There is not much certainty in our lives, but the succession of days and nights, weeks
and months, Shabbats and festivals, anchors us in life and time. We change, but their
fundamental meaning doesn’t. That is beautifully captured by the
she’echeyanu: Blessed are You, Eternal our God. You have granted us life, sustained
us, and empowered us to reach this moment.

Rabbi René leading the communal seder in 2019
Strength and resilience

Our community life under Covid has been disrupted to a point that very few in our
countries have known since the end of the last war. And yet, our communities have
shown strength and resilience.

Much has been written already about the effects of Covid on our society and our
world. But it has also taught us some invaluable lessons. We cannot continue with
the previous way of life, pursuing wealth at all cost with no consideration for the
environment and the wellbeing of our fellow humans. We have
rediscovered the power of togetherness and community, the
interconnectedness of all parts of our society, and professions that were taken for
granted – carers, bin collectors, delivery people, supermarket workers – have proven
to be essential for the upkeep of our collective life.

A full cycle of Jewish festivals

When we reach Pesach this year, we will have covered a full yearly cycle of Jewish
festivals. We have experienced them with many external limitations, but their
deeper meaning became more accessible than ever.

We’re all affected by restrictions on our freedom. Last year, Pesach occurred
just a few weeks after the first lockdown was announced. In Progressive Jewish
communities, Rabbis and lay leaders responded swiftly to the situation by creating an
online space for the seder. In more traditional communities, Rabbis and lay
leaders found creative ways to celebrate the festival of freedom. All Jews felt that
this night was very different from all other nights indeed. It was a night pregnant
with new beginnings. We discovered anew the inner freedom that is part of the
seder: from slavery to liberation, from the narrow places in Egypt to the open
spaces of Sinai. Leaving Egypt, jumping into the unknown must have been very
scary. It was a leap of faith, faith in the word of one man, Moses, and faith in the
word of the God of Israel to set everything in motion to find our own truth. This
liberating and transformative process was only possible because they were a
community and acted as one. So have we also reminded ourselves this past year.

A scene from last year’s online communal seder
We have now crossed the sea…..

A complete cycle later, the spirit is quite different. We are somehow despondent; we’ve
had enough of these limitations. Many people have died since last Pesach, and we
have suffered many losses. Our patience has been tested. Our resilience has proved
to be stronger than we thought. We know that there is light at the end of the tunnel,
but nobody dares forecast when this plight will be over.

I would like to suggest a different focus for our 2021 / 5781 Pesach celebrations. The
highest point is usually the first day, or more precisely the first night, the beginning
of the liberation process. The last day commemorates the crossing of the Sea of
Reeds, the ultimate step of Redemption, when our ancestors put their feet on the
other side and began the process of becoming a great nation. It was not an easy
process, and is still not, but it feels like we have now crossed the sea and are ready to
build the new post-Covid world. We have moved far away from last year and are
ready to begin our new journey.
Chag Pesach Sameach.

Rabbi René

Gathering in our Kehillah garden prior to the communal seder in 2019