Dear Ramah Day Camp and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin Communities,
This week our message to you is Passover-related: the D’var Torah, below, offered by Rosh Solelim 2020, Ethan Weiner. It is, fittingly, about Passover’s ability both to serve as an annual anchor for our lives and to draw us into the distant past and, simultaneously, push us to imagine an ideal future. It is a reminder to remember both that we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and what it will take for us to realize the promise of a future ultimate redemption. At this moment of uncertainty for all, pain and upheaval for far too many, it is spot-on.
With wishes for a wonderful, if unique, Passover, as well as your ongoing health, safety, and sanity,
A Ramah Wisconsin “lifer,” Ethan Weiner is 2020 Rosh Solelim. Originally from Deerfield, Illinois, he is a senior at Washington University majoring in Biochemistry. In the fall he will begin pursuing a PhD in Plant Science at UW Madison.
Time Travel on Pesach
By Ethan Weiner
On April 14, 1998, a date that happened to coincide with Pesach (Passover) that year, I was born. It seems that each time it comes around, I find myself reflecting on the previous year of my life and thinking about where I was last year on that date. This is not just because it’s my birthday, but also because of the nature of the holiday itself.
In 2015, I somehow found myself leading a seder in Jerusalem with Alex Harris (Rosh Shoafim 2019 and 2020) for a group of Jews and non-Jews alike, being away from home for Passover for the first time (not including 1998) and getting to say “L’Shanah Ha’Ba’ah B’Yerushalayim” (next year in Jerusalem) with particular gusto. In 2016, I found myself away from home once again, this time at college, where I got to spend my s’darim (plural) with a new group of friends within the context of a tumultuous first year of studies. In 2017, I was able to celebrate Passover at home for the first time in three years, excited to finally get to spend this time with my family, while also being aware that this would be the first Pesach without my Grandpa Al. Similarly, in 2018 and 2019, Pesach continued to be a marker that allowed me to reflect on what happened the year prior and think about the year to come.
Our 2020 Passover s’darim will no doubt look different than any that came before. There will be fewer people to read the hardest paragraphs of magid, search for the afikomen, play with my mom’s weird Ten Plague finger puppets, and generally participate to create this unique experience in the Jewish calendar. Normally a time for family to come together, this year necessitates we stay far apart in order to protect those we love.
However, we can be comforted by the nature of Pesach itself. The first day’s Torah readings bring us back to yitziat Mitzrayim (leaving Egypt), while on the second day we read detailed descriptions of the Passover offering. Both allow us to be transported to a different time, not having to worry about whatever problems we have in the present day. The s’darim serve this function to an even greater extent by allowing us to add another dimension to our experience through our senses; not only do we hear the stories of our people, but we taste the tears of our ancestors, see the Passover sacrifice in the shank bone, smell the bitterness of slavery in the horseradish root, and feel the presence of Elijah in our homes.
Passover allows us the opportunity to appreciate our history, to be witnesses to that history, and to look forward to the future. As mentioned before, the last line of the seder looks to a future where we can all celebrate together in Jerusalem. While the first days of the holiday focus on our past, the last days look toward the future; in the Haftarah on the eighth day, we read from the book of Isaiah and envision ourselves in Olam Ha’Bah – the world to come.
I’m excited that April 14th will once again fall on Passover this year, and not just for the “K for P” coffee cake that’s always much better than expected; this is a year where it will be especially comforting for us to look both into our past and future, remembering those difficult times and also look forward to the happier times to come. Chag sameach!