This One IS In The Book: The story of a Seder, a parody song, and freedom
March 28, 2013 at 2:32 am, by storyteller
Every summer at Herzl Camp, there is one song, one moment, that is both beloved and dreaded by campers and staff alike. At the last Friday night song session of the summer, as the last song, the rosh shira (song leader) leads camp in John Denver’s Leaving On A Jet Plane amid a shower of tears and hugging. To a Herzl Camp person, there is no more meaningful of a song. Without fail, at least 90% of camp is bawling by the end of it. This is the last song that some of these campers and staff will ever hear at Herzl camp. It’s a song that speaks of love, of separation, of uncertainty in our future. It’s a song about holding onto that faith that one day you’ll be back, and that you’ll be reunited with the people you love, in the greatest place on earth.
“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I’m standing here outside your door,
I hate to wake you up to say good-bye.
But the dawn is breaking, it’s early morn, the taxi’s waiting He’s blowing his horn.
Already I’m so lonesome I could die.
So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for me, hold me like you’ll never let me go.
‘Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again. Oh, babe, I hate to go…”
Last Monday night, at our first Seder, we arrived at the part of the story where the Israelites emerged victorious on the other side of the Sea. At this point in our Seder, (which, by the way, is famous for its ridiculous parody songs) we started the tradition a few years ago of singing a parody of that very John Denver song that is so meaningful to us (see Leaving On A Desert Plane, as well as many other great Passover parodies). Every year, my cousins begin to ball as they remember their camp days. But this year, it was different. One of my cousins absolutely lost it. It moved her more than it had in any of the previous years.
Why was this night different from all other nights? (Sorry, but I had to do it). It moved her so because the very next day, she and her fiance were packing up and moving to Charlotte to start a new life. They’ll be the first ones to move away from our family and start a life somewhere other than Minnesota. In that moment, she was on the precipice of her own journey and her own uncertainty of not knowing what would happen next. This song, in connection with camp and the story of Passover, whether she realized it or not, moved her in such a way that the story of Passover ceased to become just a story rooted thousands of years ago in a far off land. It became real. It became her story.
Her story is one that’s filled with uncertainty and hope. Where am I going to work? Where am I going to live? Will I make friends? Will I ever be back again? What will the next chapter of my life look like?
It’s those same questions of uncertainty, hope, and faith that the Israelites struggled with in their journey to the Promised Land. After years of having their every action dictated to them by the Egyptians, they finally had the freedom to do as they wished. And so they set out to start a new life in the Promised Land (after all, isn’t that what we all want? To reach our Promised Land of full potential?).
They had no idea what to do as a free people. After all, they had been slaves their whole lives. They didn’t know what to do, or how to do it, and in the end, they just ended up complaining. “Ah, our lives in Egypt were so much better.” “We had everything taken care of for us there.” “There was nothing to worry about.” “We always had food.” Being out on their own was scary. There was no guarantee of what would happen the next day.
The Torah, and in turn the Seder, teach us that being out on our own is just what we need. When we get that freedom in life, from our families and friends and our routine, we have the potential to do great things without the pressure and obligations that they so often bring. We can do great things as individuals, as partners, and even as nations, and we too can perform miracles and alter the fate of humanity.
With freedom though comes great responsibility. We can just as easily build idols and hit rocks as we can receive the blessings of the 10 commandments and build the tabernacle. That choice is ours, and it’s incumbent upon us to live our lives with a knowledge and presence of Godliness in every moment.
Pesach is a time of freedom, of song and dance, and where seemingly inconsequential moments can move us in ways that we don’t expect. It is a reminder that the story of the Exodus lives not only on age old manuscripts, but it’s written into our neshama, our DNA that makes us so distinctly Jewish.
This Pesach, it’s my blessing that we are all able to discover and embrace the freedom in our lives, and that we are granted the wisdom and the courage to transform our golden calves into golden tablets.
Hag Kasher V’sameach
Sam Blustin is a student at the University of Minnesota. If you like his writing, check out his weekly blog of Jewish stories at http://soupfortheneshama.blogspot.com/