Who We Are …

A new survey of American Jews prompted much buzz this week, much of it focused on the level of support for President Barack Obama's re-election (62 percent). But more important in the long run are the findings in the Public Religion Research Institute survey about what drives Jewish identity and behavior.

The most popular quality cited was "a commitment to social equality," chosen by 46 percent of American Jews. Support for Israel and religious observance came in second and third, with 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Those who will inevitably seize on these finding to further their own agendas set up a false dichotomy. It shouldn't be an either/or situation. Being Jewish is not just about loving Israel or being passionate about social justice. It is about both — and more.

The holiday of Passover, which we are about to celebrate, provides the quintessential blending of the different aspects of who we are as a people. Our Exodus from Egypt sets us off on our journey as a free people, on our way to the Promised Land. And by invoking that journey as we do each year during the seder — remembering the bitterness along with the joy — we have before us a road map for our social consciousness.

As we gather with our families and friends, let's focus on the myriad pieces that make us, and grapple once again with our history in order to enact the essence of who we are as Jews and as human beings.

… And Why We Do It

Passover is arguably the most widely observed and most memorable holiday on the Jewish calendar. But it is also the one that demands the most from us. Beginning with the painstaking pre-Pesach cleaning to the enormous kosher-for-Passover food bills to the most arduous facet of all — eating unleavened products for eight days — it's a pretty rigorous regimen.

What often gets lost in the restrictions and requirements is the reason we do what we do. As Gutman Locks, who is a fixture at the Western Wall, cautioned this week in a widely circulated email: The most important thing to watch out for during the seder is to "make sure that the children have a good time."

Why? "There is only one reason we have the seder at all: to remember the Exodus from Egypt. And there is only one reason why we must remember the Exodus from Egypt: so we will remain Jews. If we forget our past, there will be no reason to go on as a people. There is only one way for us to remain Jews, and that is to raise Jewish families. Without the children coming back next year, there won't be any Jewish families."

So in addition to wishing all our readers a Happy Pesach, we wish you a truly happy and fun seder — for all our sake!




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