The Egg, the Matzah Ball, and Water

Change in the Face of Adversity: The egg, the matzah ball, and water

Rabbi’s Message – April 23, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Last year, 30 people gathered on Zoom for the Passover Seder.  In our household, Matt, the kids, and I attempted to navigate Zoom with Matt’s siblings and their children.  It was not the finest Seder of my life.  In fact, I was disappointed to be holed up at home, so accustomed to large holiday gatherings.  And now, here we are a year later, and my Seder is going to look just about the same – just Matt, the kids, and I, probably with some family on Zoom.  

Except, this year, it’s different because we knew it was coming.  This year, there are a vast number of digital resources, and using video conferencing software is an old trick for many at this point.  In culling through those digital resources, I found this one from The Blue Dove Foundation, which provides a mental health framework for Passover classics.  In this article, one thing that stands out is the description of the egg on the seder plate: “It’s traditional to roast or char the egg, leading to a fun interpretation – an egg, just like us, is resilient!  The hotter the flame, the tougher we get.  We aren’t weakened by struggle; we overcome it and become stronger.”  This interpretation reminded me of the lesson about what happens to a potato, an egg, and coffee beans when exposed to boiling water.  The potato – the biggest and strongest of them, becomes the weakest.  The egg, hardens, becoming perhaps stronger, as Blue Dove Foundation suggests, and the coffee beans, they change the water.  

We all respond to adversity in our ways, whether it be slavery in Egypt, a pandemic, or some other challenge. This Passover, the egg on the plate can remind us of how we can be strengthened by challenges – even if we get a little charred on the outside.  But maybe we don’t always become stronger, and that’s okay.  I also think of the matzah ball, that when cooked, becomes soft (and delicious), – unlike its unboiled original version.  Exposure to the hot water has changed not only the matzah ball, but the water around it has also become different.  What was once just plain water has become infused with the flavors of chicken and vegetables through the process of cooking and becoming soup.  The matzah ball and its environment have been forever changed.  And maybe we too, in facing adversity, changed the situation around us instead of ourselves – turning water into soup.  

We may be like the egg, the matzah ball, or the soup – stronger in the face of adversity, slightly softer because of it, or completely changed.  Each of these reactions are a part of who we are as individuals and who we are as a people.  And so, we will sit down this year and tell the story of Passover like we have for thousands of years.  Maybe we will reminisce over the seders that have been and fantasize the seders that might be next year, all the while experiencing the seder that is.  It’ll be different, but after all, isn’t Passover all about being different than other nights? 

Women Leading Change

Women Leading Change

Rabbi’s Message – March 9, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Yesterday marked International Women’s Day, a global day set aside to celebrate the achievements of women. In this spirit, I’d like to share the names of two remarkable Jewish women who are changing our world for the better. They are Lead Attorney Roberta Kaplan and Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First for America (IFA). These women represent a group of individuals who suffered directly as a result of the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017. The organization that supports these efforts, the IFA, is a nonpartisan non-profit dedicated to defending democratic norms and the civil rights of every American.

Kaplan and Spitalnick have been successful thus far in their groundbreaking federal lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, that seeks to hold accountable the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists who conspired to orchestrate that weekend of violence.  By taking on both individuals and groups in this civil lawsuit, they hope to bankrupt the movements, undermine their ability to operate, de-platform them, and show others that people who conspire to perpetrate violent hate acts will be held accountable.  This lawsuit and the work they are doing is both urgent and critical. The research they are conducting reveals the growing use of online platforms to facilitate extremist violence. They have even been able to trace communications between the orchestrators of the Charlottesville attack to those in Pittsburgh and in the recent insurrection in Washington, D.C.

In these times of increased incidents of hate, antisemitism, and racism, I find that the work of these women gives us hope and offers us tangible ways to take action.  On March 23, at 8:00 p.m. you, too, will have the opportunity to be inspired by these women as part of a conversation being offered through the Men of Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I hope you will tune in and recognize their efforts to lead by example, take action, and stop the cycle of hate.  Register now for the event

Standing on the Threshold

In Our Liminal Space

Rabbi’s Message – December 29, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

“We plan, God laughs.”

An easel sits in the corner of my office, filled with a year of programing plans. It is as useful as a paperweight today, but it remains to remind me life’s ephemeral nature.  We naturally make assumptions that certain things will always be the same.  2020 challenged this theory and this week we enter 2021 with tentative plans at best.

This pandemic has left us in a constant state of change – a lot of being “in transition.”  We entered what is known as “liminal space;” we crossed the threshold into a period of intense transition and “becoming.”  While the term “liminal space” may identify physical areas like stairwells and lobbies, it also represents the span of time between major parts of our lives.  It is the place between “what was” and “what will be,” and it is uncomfortable.

Father Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward: A spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, describes liminal space as “when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.” 

This week we complete the book of Genesis and prepare to read Exodus.  We stand between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.  Our government is transitioning leadership, completing one presidency while simultaneously preparing for another.  People who have received a Covid-19 vaccine are waiting for their second dose.  Others of us are waiting to learn when our first shot will be available.  We are stuck with uncertainty.    

The Torah teaches us that transitions are inevitable.  In this week’s Torah portion Jacob passes his legacy to his children, is gathered to his ancestors, and taken out of Egypt to be buried in the cave of Machpelah.  And then Joseph dies and his bones are brought out of Egypt.  This part of our Joseph story reminds us that we are always in transition – eternally “becoming.”  And it can be both frightening and beautiful.

Father Rohr explains: 

There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.

But we need to leave ourselves open to the changes around us.

The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push — usually a big one — or we will not go. Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in — but only to be moved out from…

This is the essence of liminal space.  It puts our identities up for grabs.  It can force us to question all of the areas of our life, including our purpose. Perhaps this is why people are responding so strongly to Disney’s “Soul.” 

Father Rohr tells us:

…we have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of ‘business as usual’ and remain patiently on the ‘threshold’ where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown…This is a good space where genuine newness can begin…It is the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way…

There is something spiritual about being in a situation that is ever changing. As deeply troubling and uncomfortable as things are, it is also a time to find hope and self-efficacy.  My hope is that this uncertainty allows us to open ourselves up to beautiful new things, rediscover the things that matter most to us, and realign our priorities.  Let’s not let it pass us by.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.