Passover is the story of freedom from bondage of the Israelites from the ancient Egyptians. It’s the story of their pursuit to achieve the freedom to follow Hashem, the omnipotent one invisible God. But the price of that freedom was high. Wandering the desert for 40 years, constantly being tested by God to trust both the spirit and Moses and to keep their eyes on the prize. Passover became my favorite holiday because it was a platform to equivocate allegory with our own modern day lives, especially my own.
Mary Ann and I hosted Seders for over 20 years. Last year was particularly memorable for us both. This time last year, I had a pretty bad case of pneumonia. I was getting very congested and had trouble breathing. We went to the emergency room. It was very busy that night. We were sequestered in an exam room for 14 hours because they didn’t have a bed for me. Once in the room, treatments started and in a couple of days, I was doing much better. But they kept me in the hospital for a week’s time. I have never in my life been in the hospital for that length of time. The doctors wanted me there for observation and wouldn’t release me until each specialist signed off and each piece of equipment they ordered for me was there so I could take them home. The day I was to leave was one day before our Seder. The doctors weren’t comfortable releasing me because of a snafu with my respirator and so they kept me in another day. The next day was the evening of Passover at our house. Tables were set for 25 guests. The hospital staff were saying goodbye given everything was good for me to be discharged. It was getting late in the afternoon and finally the discharge nurse came in. She noticed one piece of equipment wasn’t there and refused to discharge me. Mary Ann and I were furious. Mary Ann would not accept this and started making calls and talking to hospital staff. (I started singing “Let my Harry go!”). Mary Ann was successful and we got home about an hour before people started arriving.
This experience made me feel I was in bondage. I couldn’t physically walk out and one person had control over me. The price of freedom was having to vigorously advocate for oneself, which Mary Ann did effectively. ALS robs your freedom physically and your independence. It makes you dependent on others to stay comfortable, productive and alive. It also makes me more attuned to others less fortunate than me. I’m keenly aware of how fortunate I am compared to others with ALS. I have a loving family and community of friends as well as the resources to enhance my independence through technology. There are so many others who are abandoned by family and friends when they became ill or don’t have the means to survive well.
Passover has always been memorable for me. When I was young, we had Seder at our apartment in Brooklyn. I remember my “aunts and uncles ” (some family but mostly friends of my mother), many with numbers tattooed on their arms, telling stories in Yiddish. I think about the price they paid for their freedom. At my own Seders, those memories prompted me to reflect on those who are still not free, such as asylum seekers or modern day slaves, as well as what enslaves ourselves, in my case of extreme physical disability, or other things that restrict our personal freedoms.
It is a challenge for each of us to make a personal resolution to do something to help ourselves and/or others in need. We still have slavery in our world, we still have civil rights being denied, and homelessness growing. We have to believe that we each can do something. Passover reminds us we were slaves once and our faith set us free. The rabbinic sages expanded the interpretation of slavery to indentured servitude and anything that enslaves us. In modern day context, that might include addictions, abusive relationships and poverty. My passion was to break down walls between religious groups. Think about what is yours. Regardless of whether you observe Passover, Easter, Ramadan, or a New Year or Harvest, it’s a time for reflection and renewal. I encourage everyone to think about what is the price of freedom. Most of us are free from many of the burdens others face. There is a price of freedom, so let’s all chip in. There is a saying that goes, freedom will likely not be completely won, but it can be easily lost.
More to come…