AS Jews, we know the importance of using our actions to demonstrate what we believe. There is perhaps no greater example of this than our observance of the Pesach seder, which represents commitment to our tradition and beliefs through action. The seder helps us to ensure that future generations can appreciate the sense of redemption, of liberation, of belonging and of equality that our ancestors first experienced when they left Egypt.
Ultimately the Pesach seder – the telling of our people’s story, the reminder that we left Egypt as well, is there to bring to the forefront of our mind that not all people are free.
We cannot truly celebrate our freedom and our liberties while others are still enslaved.
While we have historically looked at slavery as being one person’s servitude to another, we have to accept that we can be enslaved to ideas, to culture and to constructs.
Women all around us this last week have reminded us that the type of masculinity that has been popularised and celebrated for hundreds of years is doing nothing but destroying our sons and impacting our daughters.
As the inheritors of an extraordinary tradition that was in most parts written, annunciated and documented by men, we shouldn’t hesitate to recognise that which men have and continue to bring to the table. But nor should we allow ourselves to think that just because our sacred tradition documents the words of our fathers, that our mothers’ contributions were not as significant.
We need to acknowledge that by celebrating and amplifying the male voices in our tradition, we have enabled the culture of male centrism which, at its worst, manifests as toxic masculinity.
When we position women as “for” men, and when we don’t see women as whole people with rich and nuanced contributions, we are engaging in toxic masculinity.
So many women do not feel recognised, respected or heard. They do not feel safe on the street or in their workplaces. And they have come to those positions through real experiences. Their views are not hearsay.
We have, since the middle of the 20th Century, begun to add things to our seder plates to demonstrate our understanding of the fact that that which we celebrate – freedom – isn’t being celebrated equally. We have added potatoes and potato peels, cocoa beans, oranges, Miriam’s Cup and this year we are adding a block of ice to our seder tables to mark our enslavement to fossil fuels and the catastrophic effects of climate change.
I look back at what we have done in our celebration of freedom over the years and I think about all the ways that I have added to my seder plate to express my desire for a better world, and I regret that it has not been sufficiently successful. As I listened to the cries of generations of women finding the courage and confidence in each other’s fellowship to give voice to that which we have ignored for far too long, I spent much of the week thinking about what it was that we should add.
I realised – we put the Miriam’s Cup there forty years ago. The orange? It is now 50 years since we first welcomed women into the Rabbinate. Perhaps adding things is not the way.
It is time for us to hear the call dayenu. To hear the cry ‘enough’, and to stop trying to add and compensate. We can begin by recognising that if it wasn’t for the women in our community and the women in our tradition, we would never have left Egypt. We would never had made our way through the desert. We would never have created this tradition. The fact that 2000 years later women still do not feel equal, valued, and respected in our tradition and in their everyday lives – dayenu! Enough.
Maybe if we stopping adding to our seder plates and start taking things away, we’ll notice the immensity of the challenge.
So, today, I’m inviting you not to add to your seder plate but rather to remove. To either remove the entire seder plate altogether so we note its absence and what its absence represents, or to have a second, empty, seder plate on our tables – one that is void of the symbols of our story to recognise that we need more than symbolism and platitudes. We need real, lasting, action. That is my invitation to each of you because if we don’t take collective responsibility then before long our celebrations, like our seder tables, will be empty.
I so hope that the courageous voices of so many women – the growing chorus that we are hearing in our schools, in our homes, on our streets and in our parks is heard. I recognise our responsibility as a community of faith and as a community of action to lead the response to their voices. We must not wait for change to happen, but to be the change that we want and need.
I wish you a Chag Kasher Sameach, a holy and meaningful Pesach. One that is liberating to your soul and your spirit and connects you to all of those around us.
Rabbi Gersh Lazarow is senior rabbi of Temple Beth Israel.