For generations of Jews and Christians, the story of the Exodus has proven to be a foundation of faith. But today’s commemoration of Moses and the first Passover meal offers a sense of connection most have never felt before.
The Feast of Pesach or Passover represents the culmination of the 10 plagues of Egypt. When legions of frogs, locusts, boils and even rivers of blood failed to persuade Pharaoh Ramses to release the Israelites from slavery. Then, God sent the final scourge — the death of the first born son.
Before the Angel of Death descended on the land, the Israelites were instructed to slaughter a paschal lamb and to mark the doorposts with its blood. This was a signal to the angel to pass over these houses, hence the term “passover.” Inside, families hunkered down in faith, hoping they would remain safe.
Since the pandemic began a little over a year ago, many people — regardless of faith — have experienced that sensation. Confined to their homes, they held tight to the hope that sickness and death would also pass them over. It’s certainly something that Rabbi Rachael Bregman feels everyone can relate to now. Even though the coronavirus vaccine is offering a path to normalcy, many remain isolated. And Bregman says finding ways to connect despite the distance remains a challenge.
“This year, we are having an online seder service. We gave out holiday gift bags, which is something that we’ve done throughout the pandemic,” she said. “The bags for Passover are just beautiful and were assembled by Jen Waters and Kathryn Schiliro. We are really grateful for their hard work. So inside these little goody bags there are items representing the 10 plagues in ways that are fun and meaningful.”
They will also have the opportunity to enjoy some of the classic dishes that some would otherwise choose not to prepare. Tanya Sergey, owner of A Moveable Feast in Brunswick, is offering up Passover meals for those who won’t be cooking themselves.
“One of the things that I think we’ve missed about holidays over the last year is the food. For a lot of people, cooking a big meal for one or two people doesn’t make a lot of sense. So we’ve worked with Tanya who has prepared these amazing and healthy meals for us,” she said.
While the members of Temple Beth Tefilloh will continue to worship virtually, Bregman does miss the communitywide seder that has become a tradition in years passed.
Bregman and Temple Beth Tefilloh have hosted local churches for a seder meal, explaining each of the parts of the service. The term “seder” means “order” in Hebrew and includes a plate that features symbolic foods to be eaten or highlighted during the course of the service. Each item is used to reinforce the story of Moses and the Exodus.
“It was just such a beautiful opportunity for the whole community to come together ... so that will be missed,” she said.
But Bregman is still focused on bolstering a sense of community in other ways. A staunch supporter of racial equality and justice, she has been working with a diverse group of local clergy members to find ways to connect and advance this cause. This effort, she notes, also has a tie-in to the Passover story.
“It is a story about seeking freedom from that which keeps us confined. So it connects to the issues surrounding racial injustice in this country,” she said. “It’s something that Judaism reminds us of over and over again in the text of the Torah. The Jews were literally slaves in Egypt. So there’s always that reminder for us. It’s a constant call to action for us to not forget the enslavement of others.”
It’s why she’s dedicated to the ongoing work of fighting for racial equity in the community, especially following the death of Ahmaud Arbery in February of 2020.
“This year, I think I’m just really aware of the fight for Black and Brown people, and I’ve been a part of a multi-faith, multi-race effort in Glynn County who are, along with many other organizations, are trying to work towards transformation,” she said. “And, of course, more broadly when you look at the recent shootings in Atlanta, which are steeped in issues of race and gender. I think that this is the lesson I’m most focused on this year.”
Bregman hopes to be a friend to those, who like the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, need allies and support.
“My hope is that we move closer to that sense of freedom and are able to shift the mindset from a place of ‘power over’ to a place of ‘power with.’ A lot of us in Glynn County are working on that because we know ‘power with’ and allowing for ‘empowerment’ makes this a better place for all better. So we will continue to work on this together because we belong to each other,” she said.