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Jewish Holidays

Freedom Stories

The first books I ever fell in love with were the American Girl books. The American Girl Company as a whole was a big part of my childhood, and its influence is still with me today: if it weren’t for it and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” I don’t know if I would have passed US History last year. Educational value aside, the books have held up as fantastic examples of children’s literature, with their beautiful illustrations, interesting historical notes in the margins, diverse characters (including their cast of thirteen young female protagonists), and, most importantly to me, simple but solid stories.

The Passover Challenge: Discovering What We Take for Granted

Even though the snow has persisted through and beyond the winter season, I am glad to acknowledge that spring is finally here! But before my junior year of high school comes to a close, I still have to cross some bridges before I can sail into summertime mode. Along with my upcoming AP exam, finals, and SAT test, I will shortly face the ultimate Jewish challenge: Passover.

For those who follow the Passover tradition where all grains are cut from the daily diet for eight days, then you certainly know that blissful feeling during break-fast when you take a big bite into that challah and think “wow, I will never take bread for granted again.”

The Power of Stories

When I was younger, if you had asked me which of the many Jewish holidays is my favorite, I would never have said Passover. The restrictions that Passover requires made it hard for me to enjoy the message behind the Passover story. Plus, the drama that Passover created in my family, with my parents running around the house cleaning, only added to the stress. My grandmother changed this feeling for me.

The Many Faces of Freedom

I recently experienced the multi-media performance The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book composed by the Bosnian-born Merima Kljuco, which expressed freedom at so many different levels and with such fervent passion. History was recast through a dialogue of accordion and piano, synchronized with artistic renditions of corresponding historical events. The 12 movements started with the creation of the Haggadah just before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, to Venice in 1609 where Jews were confined to the ghetto, to Sarajevo in 1941 where Hitler’s goal was to establish a “museum of an extinct race” and a Muslim imam hid the book until the war was over, through the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, finally ending with the Mother’s Benediction in Ladino when the Haggadah ends up back home.

Following in Miriam's Path

At every Passover Seder, there are the traditional items on the table: the Seder plate, a place for Elijah, and that gnawing hunger before finally feasting. On my table there is another item that makes a quiet appearance every year. A Kiddush cup, the same one my family uses for Shabbat, is given a new name for Pesach. The Kos Miriyam, or Miriam’s Cup, has its own part of our Seder rituals. After a certain number of parody songs about the holiday, and some acting out of the plagues—aided by ketchup (blood) and sunglasses (darkness)—the Kos Miriyam finally gets its turn. Passing the cup around, we listen as my mother tells us about Miriam’s well and the divine healing power held by the water. This water brought the Jewish nation from a place of physical and emotional slavery to a free, spiritual, lively community. She explains that as Jews and as individuals we are still on journeys to a better place.

There are times in our own lives when we try to reach a land of milk and honey, but often there are roadblocks, speed bumps, and detours along the way. We can take on these challenges single-handedly, but if we do, we are more likely to work ourselves into the ground, unable to continue moving forward. Instead, we can choose to reach out to the women surrounding us for assistance. With their help, we can overcome obstacles and continue on our individual journeys. The women in our lives provide support to each of us, as Miriam supported the Israelites on their grueling journey to the Holy Land.

A Joyful Struggle

I have always struggled at my family’s Passover Seders. My difficulties have not been emotional or spiritual, religious or psychological. My troubles have been purely physical; every year, I wrestle with the giant stack of haggadot next to my plate, which seems intent on toppling over. I spread the books around me, trying to follow my family’s traditional Seder in five or more disparate texts, a linguistic comment here, a poem there.

Death of Ruth Fredman Cernea, cultural anthropologist of Jews in Myanmar and Washington, DC

March 31, 2009

Ruth Fredman Cernea said, "Jewish humor is not silly, but it is absurd absurdity. It is the opposite of deep seriousness."

Laverne Cox's Brave New Platform

I consider myself a feminist, and I also strive to combat other axes of oppression in my daily life, but sometimes I fall through. Far too often, I’ll stay quiet when I hear someone make a transphobic comment or a misogynistic remark. Some days I’m really not up to challenging that person, but other times I just let myself believe that it’s not my battle, that it doesn’t matter, that someone else will take care of it.

Bella and Esther: If You've Got It, Flaunt It

How did Esther and Bella Abzug make change in their communities? How have Jewish women used costumes to help them achieve their goals? What can these stories teach us about gender and Judaism today?

Magda Altman Schaloum

Holocaust survivor Magda Altman Schaloum speaks out on behalf of all Holocaust survivors and their families. Born and raised in Hungary, she endured acts of antisemitism throughout her childhood, and in 1944 and 1945 Magda was sent to several concentration camps. She lost both her parents and her brother. Magda met her husband, Isaac Schaloum, in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. Isaac was from Salonika, Greece. They emigrated to Seattle in 1950, where Isaac became a tailor and businessman, and they raised three children. Although of Hungarian descent, Magda became an active and beloved member of Seattle’s Sephardic community. She volunteers for many Jewish organizations, including the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, and continues to bear witness to the horrors of hatred and antisemitism.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Holidays." (Viewed on July 30, 2015) <http://jwa.org/topics/jewish-holidays>.

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