There is a tradition that European rabbis honored to welcome young students who were beginning their Hebrew studies. The rabbi would place a little bit of honey on the cover of the siddur and instruct the new student take a little taste from the corner. The student, having done so, would inevitably exclaim “It is so sweet!” To which, the rabbi would respond, “And so it is that what is found inside is also sweet -our tradition, our songs, our prayers!” Similarly, I can still recall when at the age off four, I received my first siddur (a Shilo siddur with fairly large print!). It was winter and as my teacher unpacked the cold books just delivered by the postman he handed me one. “It is cold,” I remarked. “Yes,” my rabbi mused. “But it is warm on the inside!”
Last Sunday I taught our young people a song that appears in the Passover Haggadah;“In each and every generation one should see oneself as if he or she went forth (to freedom) from Egypt.” It was most pleasing to hear the kinderlach singing with gusto this relatively new tune with an old message. That song captures in no small measure the heart of the Passover Seder. From that imagination, comes a realization of putting ourselves in the place of those who struggled back then and of those who struggle still. At the time of writing, I am chagrined once more to hear of rocket attacks descending on Tel Aviv. The reach of Hamas is sadly improving. For our Israeli brothers and sisters, the quest for freedom is not academic, but all too real. As anti-Jewish sentiments have grown in this nation and in Europe, it is important for us to continue to vigilante.
I was asked to speak about anti-Semitism at Wofford this past month. It is not my favorite subject. I would much prefer to speak of Jewish values and of our heritage that embraces those values. I would gladly review the triumphs of the Jewish people in the gifts of our faith to humankind. Such was not my task that day. I was received warmly and with a decent amount of appreciation for the messages I conveyed about prejudice. Truly, it was important to note in the spirit of Passover the old adage, “No man is free until his brother’s chains are broken.”
I began with a precious memory of a sweet tradition about Hebrew. The ancients understood that Hebrew was like the building blocks of creation, a Jewish periodic table of elements. That much and more I try to convey to our adults and their children. Without that sense of the holy, all the letters are but scribbles of ink. But when they form the heartfelt and dramatic message of freedom, they place a song that is eternal in our souls.
Wishing one and all a happy Passover,
Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.