A Passover Message from Rabbi Mark Zimmerman

A Passover Message from Rabbi Mark Zimmerman

For our Passover holiday issue, we invited members of our community to share their responses.

Rabbi Mark Zimmerman
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman

The story is told that in his senior year of law school, the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was invited to join an exclusive Honor Society. He looked around the room and said: “”I’m sorry I was born a Jew,””. The room erupted in applause. They thought that had finally prevailed in their efforts to convince him to convert to Christianity. Brandeis waited. When silence was regained, he began again. “”I am sorry I was born a Jew, but only because I wish I had the privilege of choosing Judaism on my own.””

Whether we are born Jewish or have converted to Judaism, each of us is a Jew-by-Choice today. In this country, it is easy to ignore our Jewishness, and become completely anonymous if we wish it. Our grandparents, on the other hand, could not have imagined not being part of the Jewish community or belonging to a synagogue.

Passover is that moment in time — the central holiday on the Jewish calendar — where we decide whether or not to affirm our connection to our people and our shared history.

If we go on a short journey through recent Jewish history with the values of Judaism as our guide, we cannot help but realize how our amazing tradition gives definition to our struggles, adds meaning to our experiences, and helps us to make sense of our fractured world. While Passover is ultimately about celebrating OUR freedom from Egyptian slavery 3,500 years ago, we recognize that we live in a world that continues to be plagued by injustice and struggle.

Especially since October 7th, the Jewish people are keenly aware of the struggles of being a Jew in the world today. And that begs the question that we need to ask ourselves, namely, why do WE personally choose Judaism today? Why do we choose to be connected to the Jewish people our institutions or our community?

In this world where missionaries target us for conversion, where anti-Semitism is growing, where Israel-bashing is an exploding phenomenon, and where the draws of assimilation often prove irresistible – we know that being Jewish and being part of our community is a deliberate choice.

At our Passover seder we will read in our Haggadah that “… in every generation someone rises up against us to try and destroy us…”. Well, the fact that there are some people in this world who continue to hate us is painfully self-evident. But ultimately, that’s not what is important. The important thing is that we love who we are, our history, our values and one another. And if we can’t love our own community nobody else will, or perhaps even should.

So why should we choose to remain Jewish? Because the Jewish experience calls upon us through our rituals, our traditions, and our teachings to live with high ideals for ourselves, and to strive to choose that which is good for our own betterment and that of our larger community. By looking inward to our tradition and practices we discover how we can become better human beings ourselves, and then work to translate that vision to tikkun olam as we strive to repair our fractured world.

May Passover remind us that we cannot afford to take our wonderful Jewish community for granted, or the precious legacy that has been passed down to all of us.”

Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom, an inclusive Conservative synagogue in Dunwoody.

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