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Occupying Passover

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In the Occupy movement, on Wall Street most dramatically, some people grabbed hold of the concept and realities of imbalances of wealth and infused already present economic concerns with worries about the divisive nature of our economic systems taken for granted for some time. To "Occupy" the Jewish holiday of Passover, is, here, to symbolically claim our right to imbue it with the freedom to question the older meanings of the journeys of Exodus and freedom in general.

The story, according to Judaism and the Haggadah in particular, is to be both repeated each year in a specific order, and, as Jews, we are considered obligated to re-experience as much as we can what it felt to be slaves as the Jews were under the grip of the Egyptians with their Pharaoh. And of course to appreciate the freedom they won -- and were granted -- and we continue to cherish.

So "Occupy" Passover is to do what many of us have already started to do, in taking the holiday with its glorious food and the mood of the gorgeous tables filled with what we have known as the most delicious of foods, and improvising the rest by sharing diverse concepts of freedom. The idea of Passover is that the issues of slavery and freedom are for all of us: my idea is if that is so, we need to confront the slavery not only in the most obviously brutalized parts of the world, but in ourselves as well.

A crucial aspect of freedom relates to structure, discipline -- responsibility to others in our actions. There is no real autonomy without awareness of our attachments and a flexibility of the need to sometimes cling, and to be honest about our vulnerabilities and our mistakes. Where we have absolute dependency for our ideas about everything, on other people or on a deity for that matter, it seems difficult to consider such a state as worthy of the word "freedom."

This poses a huge problem for those whose essence is meshed with a higher power, in particular that perception of God being the key reality of life, namely the God of the religion that in general we are born into. Once we live by certain descriptions that have been handed down to us, containing absolute teachings of who is good and who is evil, we are much less able to discover the complexities of human beings for ourselves.

As autonomy can't exist without a context of resilience, real freedom needs also the safety and sturdiness with which to sustain questions and doubts, and perhaps change where change is deemed needed. And if we aim to have peace as one of our ideals, there has to be room for the flexibility to question any view that is racist, sexist and that sees people through the eyes of a small needle too narrow to perceive complexities.

Yes, it is true that people seem to need a spiritual existence, with some faith in the power of truth and in the safety of exploring life and knowing human beings and human nature. It becomes a serious dilemma because in order to question our principles, we have to risk needing to reconstruct our base and our basis for living. As countries with dictatorship where the people have a thirst for democracy have to construct patterns that nurture freedom, we would have to face the need for constructing codes, and places that offer belonging without absolute belief as the price of admission.

We have become so used to seeing ourselves as free, and for so many of us as seeing ourselves in the freest nation on earth, that we can become allergic to even considering the ways in which we ourselves are controlled by prejudice and superstition. My favorite way of approaching Passover, getting back to the beginning, has for years been to write an alternative Haggadah that takes into account the notion of our becoming free, rather than to assume we already are.

However even within the context of this examination, the ideal remains the permission and the obligation even, to keep admitting questions and concerns as they come up. Feeling free 20 years ago may not be inclusive enough to consider the ways in which we become aware over those 20 years in which we are stuck in fear or in prejudices we may have thought we didn't have.

Freedom can't be static, as it cannot be absolute, as it can only be limited -- also because of the limitations to knowledge, social and emotional maturity of any given time. One way of envisioning the notion of "Occupy" Passover would be for those of us who are seeking ways to enjoy tradition while not repeating the exclusivist tenets of this or any other religion, to allow creative interpretations, and the asking of questions. Of course, there are the Four Questions written into the Haggadah but the book also has the answers, which many of us feel are not the answers for our time and for our external and internal realities.

One of the richest and most uncomfortable parts of being a psychotherapist is that for every step of helping another person achieve authenticity with practical skills, there is the road of going deeper into our own growing and growing pains as well. To offer a holding space for freedom, then, is to allow for the intimate mutuality that seems to be the truest context for maturing on emotional and ethical levels.

"Occupying" Passover would involve, perhaps, subjecting ourselves to questions about our own lives, our own ways of living or avoiding freedom. On this small planet of ours, as far as I'm concerned, any version of reality which involves exclusionism needs to be amended. We need to look to the likes of Joseph Campbell who knew we needed ways to celebrate which could unite us. And I suppose part of any true exodus, would be to search for those ways.