This model dialogue between IFFP’s Rabbi Debbie Reichmann and Reverend Samantha Gonzalez-Block, and illustrates how two people from different religious traditions can come together to discuss the Spring holidays of Easter and Passover.
Rev. Sam: Hey, Debbie, isn’t it remarkable that Easter and Passover fall right around the same time? These two holidays are foundational to both the Jewish and Christian traditions – and here we get to celebrate them side by side. Not to mention, Spring is here, days are longer… This is great!
Rabbi Debbie: I love the part about Spring and more sunlight, but you know, I have to say, Sam, Easter can be tricky.
Rev. Sam: What do you mean? Easter? Egg Hunts? Bunnies? Bonnets? It is a joyous holiday, where people shout “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.” Easter celebrates new life and liberation from suffering. Hallelujah!
Rabbi Debbie: Well, yes, to the Easter Egg Hunts – I am super competitive when it comes to that – but the Easter story can be difficult for Jews, you know? Think of the way human beings have weaponized this story throughout history – using it as a way to divide people or even point fingers. Not to mention, it is a story about Jesus rising from the dead! Now, passover is much easier, what with “Let my people go” and freedom from slavery.
Rev. Sam: I hear what you’re saying. The lessons of Holy Week and Easter have been twisted through the years and the consequences have been devastating. But with all due respect, Passover, isn’t all that easy a story to digest either.
Rabbi Debbie: Not easy to digest? Passover? Gefilte Fish? Horseradish? Matzah? Well, maybe a little hard to digest… What I mean is, Passover is a universal favorite! You eat your way through this incredible story of liberation.
Rev. Sam: Oh, I know. I love a Passover meal. But it can be a tricky celebration. It’s all about God saving a select group of people, while mortally punishing another. What universal hope can we draw from such a tale?
Rabbi Debbie: You make a good point. On Passover we do celebrate God saving the Hebrews with tambourines and singing, but there is rarely much discussion about redemption for the Egyptians in the story. It’s complicated….
Rev. Sam: Seems like both holidays are…
Rabbi Debbie: You’re right…
Rev. Sam: So, what do we do now?
Rabbi Debbie: Oh! Maybe we should just cancel Easter and Passover this year.
Rev. Sam & Rabbi Debbie: Yeah…No…
Rev. Sam: Come on Debbie, Easter and Passover can’t be all bad. There has to be some good under the surface that we can all draw from these holidays. Why else would our ancestors feel it vital to pass down these stories for us to tell year after year?
Rabbi Debbie: And if we at IFFP can’t talk about these all-important holidays with one another, then are we truly practicing being an interfaith community?
Rev. Sam: You know what, Debbie, let’s put fear, judgment and human messiness aside for a moment – and take some time to explore what these holidays really mean to us – (looking out) and to us..today. Rabbi, what’s the real deal with Passover?
Rabbi Debbie: Passover is about liberation – release from slavery. The Israelites, in Egypt, were seen as a strange nation, as “other”, and so Pharaoh felt no qualms about enslaving them. Not only were they slaves, but they were under strict birth control – all boys born to Israelite women were put to death. Here’s where the way we tell the story at Passover gets interesting. In the classic haggadah Moses isn’t mentioned at all. It’s all about God liberating the Israelites and punishing the Egyptians. Part of the whole narrative also includes the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai – the ultimate gift from God. The law. Put simply, Passover is a story of redemption and also sets forth the foundations for Judaism. So, Reverend, give me a better sense of Easter.
Rev. Sam: Interesting enough, Easter is also about liberation – freedom from death to new life; freedom from hopelessness to faith in what may seem impossible. As we heard today, Jesus was a rebellious Jewish teacher, and he had been getting into a lot of trouble in his ministry (speaking truth to power, preaching radical love for all people, justice and care for the poor). And so the authorities wanted him silenced – forever. The Roman Empire had him executed and he was laid in a tomb. But the story goes that three days later, some women came to pay their respects and the tomb was empty – he was no longer there. They were told he had risen. Seems pretty wild right? But that’s just it. One of the awesome messages of Easter is that literal and figurative death do not have the last word: God’s boundless love can save us from our despair, water the beds of our greatest suffering – and somehow healing and hope can sprout and bloom.
Rabbi Debbie: You know, Sam, it’s extraordinary that these two holidays that sit side-by-side share a similar message – liberation, freedom, hope. And all that feels so needed today. Obviously, and unfortunately, physical human slavery and bondage still exist.
Rev. Sam: Not to mention senseless wars, devastating gun violence, and systems of racism and oppression.
Rabbi Debbie: Yes, and society has also let us create invisible shackles. We are, many of us, shackled to expectations about work, expectations about family, expectations about appearance, and about status. Sure, we can break these chains, but the saying of it doesn’t make it easy.
Rev. Sam: We are also shackled to circumstances–the circumstances of pandemic, of this environmental disaster, of disharmony between nations and within our own society. In these cases, it can be hard to know where to begin to make change.
Rabbi Debbie: We can find ourselves shouting “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” or pointing fingers- blaming one another.
Rev. Sam: We can find ourselves stuck – unsure of how to break free from the status quo, to shift things in a brighter direction.
Rabbi Debbie: I wonder if it helps to bear the weight of it together – to share the burdens with those we love and trust – our sacred community.
Rev. Sam: …And I wonder if we can use the tools handed down to us – lean on those promises and miracles of the past, to steady and inspire us for the hard work ahead.
Rabbi Debbie: But gosh, Sam, these Biblical stories are so complicated…they can feel weighed down with years of baggage, having caused so much pain.
Rev. Sam: You’re right, Debbie. But so many of us want – really need – these stories to still be tools for liberation. Do you think that’s possible?
Rabbi Debbie: Well, let’s look at Passover… ”Let MY people Go.” It’s a conundrum: about freedom, about welcoming the stranger and about how God chose the Jewish people above other peoples. Certainly, the concept of Jewish exceptionalism has had its place in history–serving as a lifeline for generations of Jews persecuted for being other, serving to preserve a religion and culture exiled from its home and holy places. But, now…
Now is a time to recognize that religion evolves and that same lifeline of yore, can be an obstacle. a barrier – especially in today’s ever-divided world, especially as interfaith families.
But you know….if we dig deeper, funny enough, this very text that sets the Israelites apart, also shares the tools for overcoming this idea. We are commanded to welcome the stranger, to free the captives, to ask them to share with us the thought experiment of imagining that we are that generation brought forth from Egypt. If we invite others to share in our past pain, and our past liberation, then do we not also share the gift of chosenness? (whatever that means…..)
Rev. Sam: Thanks, Debbie. So if we are able to really push through to the heart of this story – we learn about a powerfully inclusive God – who wants freedom for all – and who wants us to never stop working for the liberation of others.
Rabbi Debbie: That’s right. It’s no wonder that the Passover story has resonated with countless oppressed groups through the years – and inspired many to take action. Freedom is always possible. We can’t give up. We have to keep believing – together.
Rev. Sam: Speaking of belief…….as you mentioned earlier, the Easter story can be complicated to discuss. “He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.” It might be a story we struggle with in our hearts or as interfaith families. Heck, the word Jesus might still be a challenge for some of us. But I wonder….do we all have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead in bodily form in order to appreciate, or even draw inspiration from this tale? For some of us here, the bodily resurrection is essential and beautiful, for others it seems wholly impossible, and still for others we’re not quite sure. But what if that’s OK…what if it’s even a blessing…As a community of varying beliefs, we get to look closely at this Easter text together, we get to be fellow explorers and wonderers, challenging, learning and growing alongside one another, helping each other discover Easter with fresh eyes. Together, we may find there is room for holy nuance and mystery and even unexpected gifts for all of us.
The liberative message of Easter is one that transcends “what really happened” and instead is this world-shifting invitation to dare to believe that hope, despite all reason, despite all the odds is always possible. Jesus’s powerful, selfless compassion serves as fuel for each of us to commit our lives to loving our neighbors, lifting up the most vulnerable, guiding each other out from those places of darkness and despair. God’s promises for us remind us that we can bring resurrection, liberation, new life to a world in pain.
Rabbi Debbie: Thanks, Sam. So, if we don’t get caught in the weeds, we can see that this story can give us direction in the work of setting us free – care for another, love one another, believe that hope is at our fingertips. And we can carry on – together.
Rev. Sam: Looking around the room, I wonder what liberation looks like for us. Maybe liberation looks like getting involved in local feeding programs in our neighborhood, or advocating for legislation that matters to us, or praying or doing what we can to send aid to war-torn places.
Rabbi Debbie: Yeah, we can all take a page from our wonderful Tikkun Olam groups. But, we can also work in small ways. Helping our siblings with homework, helping with chores, being kind and nice to one another.
Rev. Sam: Big or small steps – they move us forward on the path to freedom.
Rabbi Debbie: And not only that, our actions can feel liberating to us individually, as well as communally. We can be changed by what we share with others.
Rev. Sam: You know, Debbie. I am glad we did this and we should do this more. We shouldn’t be afraid to spend time with these stories that are essential to our traditions. In fact, I feel like they are just what we needed to hear.
Rabbi Debbie: It was helpful to learn from each other, as well as to express our beliefs and challenge our thinking. I hope it’s something we all do at our dinner tables and here at IFFP.
Rev. Sam: As an interfaith community, we have the gift of not just accepting what’s on the page, but of reading it more closely – and discovering how it speaks to us. We have the gift of not just wondering about the other, but of asking and exploring together – beginning from a place of curiosity and love.
Rabbi Debbie: This Easter, no matter our background or beliefs, I hope we can all feel welcome to draw inspiration from the story of Jesus.
Rev. Sam: And this Passover, no matter our background or beliefs, I hope that we can all feel welcome to draw inspiration from the story of the Jewish people being set free.
Rabbi Debbie: These stories of liberation are ours to cling to, to teach, to use.
Rev. Sam: May they be the seeds from which new life and hope can bloom.