406: Readers Tell Us About … Passover’s enduring meaning — and hopeful news for Christians & Jews in Eastern Europe

PASSOVER, like Christian traditions surrounding Easter, lasts for at least a week. (Christian observances spill over into Clean Monday for millions of people—and even into Holy Humor Sunday one week after Easter in at least a small number of congregations nationwide each year. See our Spiritual Seasons column this week and next week to learn more. You also may enjoy the final days of “Our Lent: Things We Carry.“)
    For Passover, we’re proud to share with you news of the inspiring movie “Live and Become,” our Conversation With Rabbi Jill Jacobs on the roots of social justice in Jewish tradition and Judy Gruen’s reflection on “Spiritual Gravity” in Passover.
    BUT—this is an entire week of timeless reflections—plus, many of our Jewish readers weren’t online for a couple of days this week. So, we’re devoting this edition of our Reader Roundup (and also stories on Monday and Tuesday) to some of the best stuff we can offer on Passover themes.

ReadTheSpirit is a community of voices—and everybody’s getting involved in this!

    Contributor Gail Katz emailed about President Obama hosting the first seder at the White House on Thursday evening. This is a hopeful sign, she wrote, summing it up in these words: “The first ever Passover seder in the White House!! That’s awesome.”
    I was at a small international gathering at one of the largest Muslim centers in the Western world this week (come back on Monday to learn more about that) and I found Muslim leaders thanking a couple of Jewish visitors who came to that meeting, even though this week is Passover. These Muslim-Jewish greetings were a remarkable interfaith salute in both directions.
    And it’s not just major leaders acknowledging the season.
    We’re all intrigued by these spiritual insights. Our Publisher John Hile sent me a link to his favorite Passover story of the week outside of our own magazine—a New York Times column he spotted. Read the whole thing via that link to the Times, although you may have to complete the free registration if you haven’t visited the Times site before.

    TODAY — we’ve got two more pieces shared by contributors to ReadTheSpirit. First, for our thousands of readers just joining us on the weekend—author Charles Weinblatt writes about the overall importance of Passover themes for the Jewish people and their neighbors.
    PLUS—one of our most popular guest writers, poet Dinah Berland, is back with a soul-stirring update on the impact in Eastern Europe of her work to recover a Jewish women’s prayerbook from the era before the devastation of the Holocaust.
    Here are words from Charles—and Dinah …


    (By Charles S. Weinblatt, the author of a historical novel about the Holocaust, called “Jacob’s Courge”)
    CLICK HERE to read Charles’ entire reflection. In it, he tries to introduce non-Jews to some of the timeless themes of this ancient observance—and to draw at least one parallel with some Christian hopes that come with Easter. He ends with an appeal to all people of good will to realize that the eradication of hatred and injustice is a calling we all can share.
    Here’s a brief excerpt from his article: “Our cycles of survival and restoration over thousands of years give us
hope. Like Easter, Passover occurs each year in the springtime—a season
associated with rebirth. Symbols of death and rebirth are woven into
Passover traditions from sacrificial lambs to the presence of an egg on
the seder plate. While the overriding message of Passover is freedom,
gratitude and spiritual devotion—the concept of renewal is strong as
well and encourages us to observe the holiday in ways that will promote
justice, kindness and renewal for others in each new generation.


     When writer Dinah Berland began a poetic translation of a nearly forgotten Jewish prayer book for women, she had no idea of the spiritual repercussions she was touching off with “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women.”
    Once a best-selling guide to prayer for European Jewish women, the Holocaust nearly extinguished this collection of stirring poetry along with the lives of millions of Jewish men, women and children.
    Since bringing her English rendering of Fanny’s 19th-century book to a modern audience, Dinah has moved on to encourage the recovery of Fanny Neuda’s entire life story. Dinah also has been sharing the good news that non-Jews in the region where Fanny’s congregation once thrived are equally committed to preserving her spiritual gifts.
    To read more about this amazing story:
    Click Here to read an in-depth Conversation With Dinah Berland.
    Or, read an update published in October in which Dinah wrote about her research into Fanny Neuda’s life in several areas of Europe, including what is today the Czech Republic.

THEN, just in time for Passover, came this update from Dinah …

Dear David,
    This is so extraordinary and gratifying, I just had to share it with you. The “Respect and Tolerance” group in the Lostice area of the Czech Republic, where Fanny Neuda lived and worked, has just come out with the first Czech edition of “Hours of Devotion.” Originally, it was written in German in 1855.
    Now, the people where Fanny Neuda once lived, Jews and non-Jews alike, can read her words in their own language for the first time. Not only that, but in a recent event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Nazi destruction of the largest synagogue in the region, the local Catholic priest held a service in which he read Fanny’s prayers to the congregation.
    I am attaching the letter from Ludek Stipl, director of Respect and Tolerance, and a photograph from that March 15 event.
    You also will want to give readers a link to the Respect and Tolerance page that tells about the book. My own Web site is http://www.dinaberland.com
    Warmest Regards,

AND, here is Ludek’s letter …

    Greetings from Lostice. Thank you so much for your email, letter and beautiful words. I am very, very happy you like the new edition of the book and I am sending your letter to all my colleagues, who worked on the Fanny Neuda project. Thank you again for all your help, inspiration and vision, which started the whole process. I really like your closing remark in your letter: “May the lovely book that you have brought into the world be appreciated and used…..”
    This is being done already. We supplied books to the bookstores in the area. Also libraries in Lostice, Mohelnice, Sumperk etc have books on their shelves available to their readers.
    On Sunday March 15th we prepared the ceremony to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of tragic events—the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the burning down the Olomouc synagogue, on March 15th, 1939.
    The ceremony was conducted in the church of All Saints in Vysehorky. A few days before the ceremony I gave the Fanny Neuda book to the priest. He liked the prayers very much and he started the whole ceremony by reading prayers from Fanny’ s book! It was very moving, we did not expect that at all.
    With sincere thanks and warmest wishes,

WHAT a Passover story, hmmm?
    As a correspondent for Knight-Ridder newspapers, I traveled extensively in what was then Czechoslovakia at the time of the largely peaceful revolution that ended communist domination there. I reported first-hand on lingering problems across Eastern Europe—including Antisemitism that continued to rear its ugly head.
    It’s inspiring to find a story like this of ordinary Christian men and women—as well as Catholic leaders in the region—encouraging respect and preservation of Jewish heritage in the region.


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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