Holiday season

Hope the spring break season is coming

This weekend ushers in the third season of religious spring festivals since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down.

Today, Christians participate in the solemn observance of Good Friday, while Jews celebrate the first night of the eight-day Passover festival. And in a rare convergence of calendars, Muslims are in the middle of their observance month of Ramadan.

Looking at where we are now and where we were the last time the religious observances of spring came around reminds us of just how tumultuous this time has been.

In 2020, communities were in shock during the early days of pandemic restrictions. Early hopes were that the restrictions would end soon enough, and perhaps the holiday celebrations could go on as usual. Needless to say, that’s not how it happened. In-person worship has been replaced by online alternatives. Public Passover seders were canceled and large family gatherings associated with the holiday were frowned upon.

A year later, things were at an impasse. Many restrictions have been lifted and the arrival of vaccines gives hope that the end of the pandemic is near. Still, many people continued to limit their exposure to people outside their household.

So here we are again. Things are not exactly as many of us hoped they would be a year ago. The pandemic dragged on and put a damper on the December holidays. Since then, the number of cases has dropped significantly and, in most places, restrictions have been lifted. But the pandemic persists, with concerns about new challenges emerging as we try to get back to normal.

Other problems have emerged: rising prices and other economic problems, disturbing and often violent behavior seem to be becoming more widespread, and lingering political resentment poisons people’s ability to reach consensus on how to deal with our serious problems.

The war in Ukraine and the despicable acts attributed to the Russian military weigh heavily on the minds of people from all walks of life. This certainly alarmed members of the Jewish community. Many American Jews trace their roots to this part of the world. The Jewish people, institutions and historical sites there were attacked due to the Russian war.

Combine that with a terrible recent spate of terrorist attacks in Israel and ongoing problems with anti-Semitism here at home, and it’s understandable that Jews face a challenge to muster the spirit of joy demanded at Passover.

But they must and they will. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt as told in the Bible. Jews begin the festival with a ceremonial dinner known as a seder, where they tell the story, reflecting on the bitterness of slavery giving way to the glory of freedom by the will of God. According to tradition, every Jew must consider himself to have been one of the freed slaves. It’s a time to celebrate.

Another reason for jubilation is the renewed opportunity to join large gatherings of friends and relatives, as is the tradition. Community seders are back for the first time since 2019. They are great bright spots in our troubled times. And for the foreseeable future, memories of the pandemic will add resonance to Passover celebrations and to the story of the plagues that have befallen Egypt. These memories should reinforce the message to cherish our freedoms.

The return of full Passover celebrations also provides an excellent opportunity to renew interreligious fellowship efforts. Passover has deep ties to Easter and related celebrations, as the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection tell us that they took place during the Passover season.

As we deal with disturbing news day after day, remember this season’s message. Christian and Jewish spring celebrations emphasize rebirth and hope at a time associated with the promise of brighter times to come. They tell of tragic events that ultimately end in triumph. It’s a spirit we can all put to work right now.

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