Opening our doors at Passover to serve the spiritually hungry


A couple of years ago, I found a flyer hanging on our front door: “Shock your mama – go to church this Easter.” On the back was all of the information I would need to take part in a variety of holiday offerings at a local church, just a couple of miles from my home. Little did the person who hung this on my front door know exactly how shocked my mother would be if I went to church on Easter! I did not accept the church’s kind invitation, yet I wasn’t offended to be asked in this way. “No harm, no foul,” we might say — it never hurts to ask.

My colleague, Rabbi Jack Riemer, has noticed something very strange about us Jews. Even when we do a mitzvah, he explains, we are often very shy and apologetic about it. “Yes, I keep kosher,” we might say, “but it’s not because I’m religious. I just do it for my parents or in case someone who is kosher comes to visit.” Yet that can’t be true — keeping kosher is simply too much work for that to be so. “Yes, it’s true I go to services every week,” others might say, “but it’s not because I’m so religious. It’s just that I’ve gotten into the habit; I like the people.”

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Why are we so shy and bashful? Why can’t we say, “Yes, I do it–I keep kosher; I go to services. I do it because it feels like the right thing to do. And you should try it, too. You’re really missing out on something if you don’t.” We need to conquer our fears — in many cases, deeply ingrained fears –about being visible in our personal observances. We need to go public and extend an invitation for others to join us. Such outreach is at the very heart of our Passover observance.

When we open our doors — not at the end of the seder for Elijah, but right at the beginning — we recite, “Kol dikh-feen yei-tei v’yei-khul / Let all who are hungry come and eat.” With these words we invite not only the physically undernourished, but all Jews who hunger for spiritual enrichment, to join us and taste the richness of Jewish traditions.

As the Jewish Federation once framed the seder meal, “Many of the unaffiliated Jews in our midst are hungry. They are hungry for ‘spirituality.’ They are hungry for ‘connection.’ They are hungry for ‘community.’ In other words, they are hungry for the gifts many of us have already found in Jewish living. Our tradition has thousands of years of wisdom and guidance that we can offer to all those who are hungry. Some may question the assumption that the unaffiliated have these needs. But we will never know if we don’t bother to ask them.”

At this Passover season, may we each find the inspiration to open the doors to our religious life, and the courage to extend an invitation — it never hurts to ask.

Rabbi Stephanie Alexander is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.