There is one Jewish holiday that almost all Jews participate in, religious and secular. That is Passover.
Like Torah is described as functioning at many levels of interpretation, the Passover story is understood as a specific historical event that occurred to Jewish lineage, as an example of the mythic constant recurrence of creation and liberation (annually, weekly, daily, every instant), and as a universal ritual stimulating the thanks and urge for freedom.
The religious emphasize all three, equally I don’t know. The secular emphasize the mythic and the universal. I’ve been to many of both types. Until my son became very religious, our close and extended family seders emphasized the liberation, the idealistic basis of the sympathy with the civil rights movement, as the epitome of our collective identity, discussed, reinforced. The religious seders that I attend now are more intimately referring to thanking God for liberating US.
I used to think that the universalistic (a-Jewish) seders were the more mature, the more real. They appealed to a view that noted the prejudices and superstitions that appear in insulated communities, and sought to purge those prejudices, to adopt science and universalistic expression of values, but also with some vanity.
The religious seders that I’ve attended for a few years have a different basis of authenticity. We do speak of our liberation, thankful. And, we do speak of the liberation of all. There is something less abstract about it, something intimate, personal.
All this is a reflection of changes in my own attitude, from abstraction to actual participation. For me, it is a maturing. I look at the attitudes that led me to be oriented to political thinking, and I observe a great deal of fear, vanity, wanting to be popular, to have cool ideas.
Among those that I know that are committed to political action, and particularly action attempting to improve the lives of Palestinians, I wonder to what extent individuals motivated by abstraction (a shadow of participation).
In the blogs that I read and post to, the willingness to insult others, indicates to me that abstraction or ideological consistency is more important than participation or compassion.
Not yet having a life, but attempting to construct what might be a life by complaint and condemnation, which is a silhouette, a shadow.
On the very positive side, I definitely also observe some that have already succeeded at achieving intimate participation, actual compassion, and express it in political action, in the form of attempting to do good in the world, where they stand, where they can stand.
Frankly, I see more vanity and abstraction than commitment and compassion.
The stretch between holistic politics driven by compassion and conviction to do good, does not easily reach to materialistic politics driven by ideology and agency of history.
The four children in the Passover story is apt. The best is the participant, the individual who actively engages in the spiritual and communal life with eyes open, neither gullible nor distrustful. He/she adopts a healthy skepticism, skepticism as a means to dive deep, a sincere intention to do good.
Next best is the distrustful skeptic (also called the “rasha”, or evil. It is ironic that the “evil” is the second best). The distrustful skeptic is also diving deep and may morph into participant if compassion, study and prayer make sense at some point in life. If a child that is distrustfully skeptical remains that way throughout their life, usually they express it later actively resentfully, harmfully. Ironically, the child skeptic is actively engaged in the content, motivated, better than not interested in the slightest.
Next best is the one unable to understand. He/she is accepted, helped along, cared for, a place made for them.
Next best is the utterly indifferent, the alienated. Perhaps hateful, broken from the chain of appreciations. “Thank you for bringing me to this moment” (Parent – child. Friend – friend. Teacher – student. Author – reader. Creator – history – present.) expressed as “screw you for bringing me to this moment”.
None of us are perfectly described by either of the four. The participant doesn’t have angst or resentment about the question of how to live in association with a community, at all. The distrusting skeptic goes through a dialog their whole life about it, fighting between permanent alienation accompanied by likely resentment, the fear that they will be intellectually weak if they accommodate an approach that they had previously labeled as superstitious, drifting to grudging connection to parents and friends.
I had an old childhood friend, a very smart and vainly smart friend. In his thirties, he dropped his French political intellectual skepticism and adopted orthodoxy. I was curious but basically didn’t get it. I couldn’t get him to talk about how his attitudes changed, or why, particularly how he could drop his intellectual prestige that was such a part of his prior identity.
I think I understand a bit now. I think he came to understand his skepticism and trappings as a vanity, and now uses it as a tool to depth of prayer and community engagement. (I haven’t seen him in 15 years, so I really don’t have a clue as to how his life has unfolded. I guess it works as a myth for me, a new personal ideal, some sobriety.)