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Celebrating Freedom

Passover, which begins next Monday night, is the holiday best-loved and most widely celebrated by American Jews, and with good reason. It combines family, food and a readily understandable message — freedom and human dignity — to create a universal appeal that no other holiday can match. Hanukkah may get more media attention, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur may be more fraught with theological weight, but Passover is the festival that brings the folks home.

In many families, the debates around the Seder table will be more fraught than usual this year. It’s a deeply divisive time. Old signposts are disappearing, and many of us are torn between values that seem to be in conflict: Human rights and dignity on the home front versus defending our freedom from enemies around the world. The economy versus the war. Bush versus Kerry. It’s a debate that leaves not just the nation but most families and even individuals torn in half.

It’s the wisdom of the Jewish tradition to institutionalize even these family feuds, turning them into an annual ritual where discussing the meaning of freedom, past, present and future, is combined with drink, song and fellowship. Family becomes community and the struggles of the past live again. If we’re lucky, we leave the table a bit wiser about tomorrow’s struggles and a bit closer to the ones we love.

We wish all our readers a joyous holiday season.

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