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Dear Gratz College Community,
In the coming weeks members of the Gratz College community will celebrate Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. Others are celebrating, in one way or another, springtime, a season of rebirth and renewal. This is also a time for family and friends to share special meals together. When I was growing up my family sometimes made the arduous 300 mile trip to New York City, for a huge Seder – the Passover meal – at my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx. There I spent time with cousins I rarely saw and with relatives I did not really know. But it was always a wonderful moment. Meanwhile, my Christian neighbors had family gatherings for church services and Easter dinners. Similarly, Muslims gather for evening meals during Ramadan.
Sadly, this year most of us will not be celebrating with large groups – at least in person. Our relatives and friends will be with us on Skype, Facetime, or Zoom. We will gather virtually, but nevertheless we will gather in spirit and in kinship. We will pray for those who are ill: our family, friends, neighbors, and those we do not even know. We will pray for our own health and the health of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. And sadly, in this time of joy, we will mourn those we have lost to a pandemic we only barely understand.
Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, is also a time to celebrate freedom. It is an antislavery holiday. On this holiday we read that “We were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and now we are free.” It is the world’s oldest celebration of human freedom. In a world where people are trafficked and illegally forced to work against their will, part of our Passover, Easter, and Ramadan celebrations must be a rededication to securing freedom for all people everywhere. As Americans we should contemplate our own nation’s sad history of slavery and discrimination. We recall Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where he reminded us that we live in a “nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Once again, we should dedicate ourselves to make sure, as Lincoln wrote, that the United States “shall have a new birth of freedom.” We must strive to make that a goal for the entire world.
During Passover, Easter, and Ramadan many of us are also deeply involved in our communities. In a normal year, at the beginning of the Passover Seder we open the front door of our home, to invite in those who have no place to celebrate the holiday. The Haggadah, which we read during the Passover Seder, has us declare: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Synagogues, Jewish community centers, Hillel buildings on campuses, and other Jewish institutions have community Seders for those who are not at home or not able to have their own. Similarly, churches, missions, campus ministries, and other Christian institutions, have Easter dinners for their communities. Muslims often gather communally in the evening for the Iftar, where they break their daily fast. This year, sadly, we must forgo these public gatherings in order to slow the spread of the corona virus.
The readings in the Passover Seder remind us of the obligation to reach out to others of different faiths and nationalities to offer friendship and refuge. The Haggadah and the Bible admonish us: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex: 22:20). We are later reminded: “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy: 10:19).
This year many of us are reaching out virtually to our neighbors. But others in the Gratz community are daily engaged as health care workers, hospital and retirement home chaplains, members of the clergy from many faiths, and community volunteers. These acts of selflessness and duty demonstrate tikkun olam, or “repair of the world,” a Jewish concept which compels all of us to do our part to make the world a more perfect place. In the face of the current crisis, we will have much to repair.
I hope everyone in the Gratz community enjoys, in the safest way possible, a warm and meaningful celebration. Be safe; be careful; stay at home. Together, we will get through this. We will discover new and creative ways to be together, learn together, and support one another as a community.
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