Models of Social Revolution: Purim, Passover, and a Guest Rabbi

‘If I am on the time scale of the media cycle, it is all bad news.  But if we look at longer sweeps of history, especially historical moments where progress was made, we can breathe easier and dream bigger.  If we take a generational perspective—like, what is a forty-year plan to change the food system?—I am very motivated by the possible.”

This is a quote from David Schwartz found in Rabbi David Jaffe’s new, award-winning book, Changing the World from the Inside Outon sale now at the CBE OfficeBreathe easier.  Dream bigger.  Pursue the possible.  Thank you to both Davids.  I am looking forward to thanking the latter David in person, here at CBE at the end of April.  Rabbi Jaffe reminded me that this is why I cling to Jewish living.  This is why I am so committed to and invested in this grand experiment called Congregation Beth Evergreen.  Here, I am continually offered this “generational perspective” that enables me to breathe easier, dream bigger and sustain a motivation to pursue the possible, despite my current frustrations and fears.

At Beth Evergreen, the opportunities to witness and experience such multi-generational expanses abound.  Most days, at CBE, it’s easy to encounter three generations (or more) – families preparing for births, b’nei mitzvah services, and weddings, children caring for aging parents, and souls facing illness and grieving death.  These rites of passage, once-in-a-lifetime events, happen year-round at CBE.  And, each time they do, they challenge the myopic scope of the 24-hour media cycle with 40-year (or 6000 year) plans. They offer perspectives that extend well beyond presidential and congressional terms, even beyond individual life spans, perspectives that prompt the lungs to breathe, hearts to dream, and hands to build a community of seekers, a culture of learning, and networks of mutual support.  This ‘generational perspective’ is yet another subtle and substantial benefit of communal life.

So too do the annual (and weekly) Jewish holidays of the season lend new and valuable lenses for us to appreciate and enjoy.  Purim and Passover are coming.  In addition to the distinctively playful, musical and entertaining communal traditions that have come to characterize these holiday events at CBE, each of these holidays invites us to revisit (even relive) “longer sweeps of history, especially historical moments where progress was made…[enabling us to] breathe easier and dream bigger.”  In unique and dramatic ways, through costumes and large crackers, Purim and Passover highlight revolutionary societal transformations.

The scrolls and shpiels of Purim tell the story of how a young girl and her uncle worked within this system to influence the king to encourage refugees, victims of persecution threatened with extermination in a strange land, to rise up, defend themselves and claim their rights as citizens of Persia.

At Passover, we ‘set our table with metaphor,’ and the foods we sample serve as gateways to ancient Egypt to witness again the fall of a Pharaoh, a dictator defied and defeated, humbled by a shepherd and his brother (and a series of natural and unnatural disasters).

Esther and Mordecai are reformers.  Moses and Aaron are radicals.  Rabbi David offers an insightful comparison of the ways that each narrative chooses to channel anger.

“Core to the conflict between [reformers and radicals] was how to mobilize the anger produced by mistreatment and injustice.  The reformers tended to channel the anger into policy change while the radical groups gave expression to the anger by giving people more immediate and visceral experiences of power…  While the reformers risk damping the rage that originally motivated action, the radicals flirted with the rage exploding into hate and physical violence.  …it is a very fine balancing act maintaining the anger needed to act for change without that anger exploding into verbal of physical violence or dissipating into complacency and comfort.” (p. 138)

To my mind, this is the right topic at the right time.  And, Rabbi David Jaffe, is the right guy to goad and guide us through this “very fine balancing act.’ Thankfully, he is (God willing) coming to us as our esteemed Ellen Diesenhof z”l Scholar in Residence this year.  So, as you mark your calendars for the CBE Purim Spiel (March 12) and Second Night Community Seder (April 11), plan to join us for song (James Taylor Service) and several study sessions with this remarkable, insightful and delightful Scholar-in Residence and Activist, April 27-29.

Come.  Join us in this generational perspective.  Together, may we breathe easier, dream bigger, and pursue the possible.

Rabbi Jamie Arnold

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