Why is tonight Unlike Any Other Night?

Today is good Friday and the first day of Passover.

When these two holy days come together I think back to my daughter, Jessie’s, first year.  I hadn’t given much thought to her religious education; I was just trying to sleep through the night.  

But it was a big question. Jessie had a Jewish father, Arthur, and a Christian mother, me.  Arthur had very little religious upbringing and I had taken some time off from church after wrestling with some of the issues in my evangelical background. Up ’til that point our biggest conflict had been what to say at our wedding; so—no Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but we did say the Lord’s Prayer.  Arthur said later he loved hearing all his -our-friends speaking aloud for us.

So it wasn’t exactly a conflict, but I wanted to know more. I needed to learn something about Judaism. Where to start?

My friend,Linda, invited me to visit her parents in Florida to celebrate Passover, a holiday I didn’t know much about.  

Her mother taught me to make gefilte fish and motzoh balls and how to set the table with the seder plate, and glasses of wine and a place set for Elijah. 

When it began the old Sunday School stories came back to me.  

You see, Pharaoh, a wicked king, had a dream that a great leader was about to be born of the Israelites, his slaves, and lead the people out of captivity.  So Pharaoh commanded that all first born sons of Jewish families should be killed.   

One mother, named, Yocheved, saved her baby by putting him in a basket and floating him down the river to where Pharaoh’s daughter found him.  Then his big sister told the Pharaoh’s daughter that she knew someone who could take good care of the baby—so he was saved and raised by his own mother under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him as her son and named him Moses. 

Let’s hear it for the big sister.

When Moses grew up he noticed how cruel the Egyptians were so he went to live with his own people, the Israelites. 

One day when he was out walking he saw a bush that was on fire but it didn’t burn up, and the Angel of the Lord appeared out of the flames and then God told Moses that he must save his people and lead them out of Egypt into Canaan, a land of milk and honey.

There’s a great song about this;“Go down Moses, way down in Egypt Land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.”

Moses said, “Who, me?  I can’t do that,”  and God said, “Sure you can, I’ll help you.”  

It took some convincing, because Moses was not confident about his speaking skills so his brother Aaron went with him. 

Moses said. “Okay.” So he went to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” 

Pharaoh said no.  God had showed Moses how to turn a staff into a snake and back again and  Pharaoh was impressed but his heart was hardened and he still said no so God sent the plagues. Locusts, blood, boils, drought, frogs, hail. The worst was that every first born son would die. 

God told the Israelites to make a sacrifice of a lamb and put the blood on their door frame, and the Angel of Death would pass over their house.  And that’s Passover.

Then Pharaoh said, “Okay, go,” and Moses and his people got up and left, taking only unleavened bread.  

 Pharaoh changed his mind and sent an army after them but God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites crossed in safety and then the water came back and drowned Pharaoh’s army. 

Then the people spent forty years in the desert, and Moses went up on a mountaintop and God gave him the Ten Commandments and eventually they got to the Jordan River.  

It’s an awesome story and it belongs to all of us.  For me it resonates with the American Revolution, the Civil War, the civil rights movement. It’s all about the quest for freedom and the rights of all people to be free.

And then I realized that Jesus was celebrating Passover at the Last Supper, when he told his friends, this is my body…do this in remembrance of me,” the beginning our own ritual of communion.

I was overwhelmed.

 Linda’s Mom said, “So, you gonna convert?”

Before I had an answer for her Linda’s father said, 

You don’t need to convert, or even join Jews for Jesus. You just want a wider view of the world and where you fit in it.

Well, Exactly.

So I’m not choosing between the two faiths of my family.  I’m clinging to the things that bring us together.

Let us rejoice together in the miracles of Rebirth and Renewal.

What are my grandchildren learning?  They have a menorah and a Christmas tree.

Molly said to Jessie, “I have a father who’s Jewish, right?”

“Right.”

“And my mother is…Manhattan-ish?”

Well, it’s a start.


One Reply to “Why is tonight Unlike Any Other Night?”

  1. I love this piece and especially the conclusion that “You just want a wider view of the world and where you fit in it.” One of the reasons I love going to the 14th St. Y is that it’s run by a Jewish organization and even though it’s very diverse, there is this attachment to Judaism that I don’t get anywhere else. Some time ago they displayed a series of posters and one of the messages, from a female rabbi whose name I don’t recall, was meaningful enough to me that I wrote it down: “I am blessed to be a voyager on an ancient pathway.” I value that sense of continuity with our past, and thankfulness for being part of a bigger picture than we can see.

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