Dayenu? Passover in the Age of Division

Group of young people eating outdoors.

WE’RE  ABOUT to celebrate a holiday which commemorates the exodus from a land ruled by a megalomaniac who built large monuments to himself and then failed to pay his laborers.

This should be fun.

Family gatherings are always fraught with melodramas and decades-old wounds that won’t heal. But in 2017, Passover is plagued with so much more: Political tensions, incredulousness and outrage.

The Seder table promises to be a place where the anger of the street (and the tweet) meet ancient texts recalling grotesque mistreatments and G-d’s angry retributions. The results have the potential to get ugly.

My guess is your gathering will go down something like this: Somewhere between the second and third cup of wine, your grandpa and your college- age niece lock horns over the Affordable Care Act. Your mom reminds your uncle that no man can choose his in-laws but he can choose his white supremacist advisors. Your gay nephew throws shade at your brother for saying that people are taking “that bathroom thing” too seriously. Someone cries. Someone else storms from the table. The epithets and the charoset fly.

How to avoid disorderly conduct at a meal named for “order?” I dunno. I for one have no intention of biting my tongue (or any tongue: Sometimes main courses at Passover get weird). I’m one of those people who believe that the stakes are too high for niceties. That resistance is constant and that anger is not something we can afford to turn off.

But I am also, at the very core of me, an optimist. How can I not be? Every year since I was born, I gathered around a table with relatives and family friends to recite a story of triumph over adversity. Of impossible odds and miraculous freedoms. So, when I see blatantly unpatriotic behavior masquerading as “the Real America,” I can be angry and hopeful at the same time.

Which brings me to Dayenu.

When we sing Dayenu toward the end of the Seder, we repeat the refrain “That would have been enough for us.” If G-d had just led us out of Egypt and not given us the Torah, that would have been enough for us. If He had given us the Torah and not given us Shabbat, that would have been enough for us.

The illuminating part of the refrain is “us.” There is, somewhere beneath the pain and the anger, still an “us” gathered around the Passover table.

We, together, marched out of Egypt. Some of us complaining, some of us dreaming. We, together, wandered and searched, bickering and fighting and loving and multiplying along the way. We, together, saw – and continue to see – a Jewish homeland that we love. A land that we vehemently disagree about but stand together to defend.

When we concentrate on Dayenu, on the blessings we share, we can get through even the most uncompromisingly divided Seder. I don’t promise Dayenu will subdue arguments, but at least it will help provide context to why we spend eight hours on folding chairs, eating flavorless food with one another. We’re mishpucha. You might want to beat the person next to you with a scallion (and if you’re Persian, you can!), but we’re still family.

And on Passover, Dayenu.

Mayrav Saar is based in Los Angeles.

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