Early on Wednesday morning, I was working with a group of high school students on a meditation exercise in our alternative minyan. As we meditated together, I realized that the intentional and unintentional activities of the week had somehow aligned as the perfect preparation to spiritually enter Pesah. The meditation exercise that I had picked to use during the Amidah focused on reflecting on feelings of happiness, peace, and freedom. It was during this last portion of the exercise that, for me, the week began to click together and I realized that I was becoming ready to enter z’man matan cherutainu, the time of receiving our freedom.
On Monday, our 8th graders led an interfaith seder for the students of St. Aidan School, our neighbors around the corner. They eloquently explained the reasons behind each section of the seder and served as ambassadors of both our school and the Jewish people. Together, we celebrated the beauty of the seder and learned about its educational mission as the story of the exodus from Egypt is told. For two groups of students from different faiths to sit down and learn from one another brings to mind the incredible gift of our religious freedom.
Tuesday morning began with the delivery of the cots from New York Blood Services for our second blood drive of the school year. Blood, however, has a mixed relationship with Pesah. It can bring to mind the infamous blood libels of our past as Jews were accused of using the blood of Christian children to make matzot. It can also represent the first of the Ten Plagues that dip our fingers into at our seder. At school, however, it represented giving others the gift of life through 48 units of blood that students, staff, parents, and other members of the Schechter community contributed. This giving of ourselves provides others with the freedom to live their lives in health.
Even the fire alarm during high school lunch provided a sense of liberation. Yes, it was cold and wet outside. Yes, it was scary not knowing what was going on. But as an administrator, I found a sense of freedom from my own fears of what would happen if we did have an emergency in the building. Our preparations and practice with our own emergency procedures worked.
With the feeling that spring is actually arriving, our sixth grade students set out to engage in acts of maot chittim, pre-Pesah activities of chesed (community service). While our students did not gather wheat to provide others with the ability to celebrate Pesah, they did stock kosher for Pesah supplies at a food pantry. With the ever present fear of hunger among some in our community, our students worked to liberate them from this through their actions.
I was greeted early one morning by a student stating that she was so tired, but vacation is only a few days away. Clearly, our students are looking forward to the freedom from classwork that Pesah break will bring. Many of us among the faculty have joked about our own self-imposed slavery as we prepare for Pesah and are yearning to be set free.
My hope is that all of us will have a moment to truly reflect on what freedom means to us as we sit down at our own seder tables with friends and family to tell the story of our people’s exodus from Egypt. May you truly be able to feel a sense of freedom as we celebrate z’man matan cherutainu.
L’Shanah Ha’Ba’ah B’Yerushalayim (Next Year in Jerusalem)!