As a start to this Festival of Freedom, I share with you a poem by Fanny Neuda, brought to us in English by poet and editor Dinah Berland. Neuda wrote Hours of Devotion, a book of Jewish prayers for woman, which was published in Germany in 1854. Read her words, and you'd think it was written today. (Click here to read other selections from the book.)
ON THE FIRST DAYS OF PASSOVERDear God, the festival of Passover has come--
The joyful feast memorializing the days of jubilee,
when you redeemed our ancestors
From inhuman oppression and carried them
With an outstretched hand
Into the beautiful land of liberty,
From the dark dwellings of error and false belief
Into the sunny realms of knowledge and the pure,
Gladdening faith in you and your divine word.
With deep emotion and joy, we celebrate this holiday,
Which reminds us of that happy time
When you chose Israel for your inheritance,
Elected her from all nations,
Wedded her to you as a bridegroom weds his bride
And bound her to you with the ties of grace and love--
The tme when your people, in return, clung ot you,
As a youthful bride to the heart of her beloved,
As a chid to its mother's breast--
When they followed you, full of love and faithfulness
Into a strange, unknown land,
Followed you into a vast desert wilderness.
A long space of time has since passed,
And the heart of your people has often changed,
But your love has always remained the same.
You have been a help and refuge
To our ancestors from eternity,
A shield and a help to their children after them
Throughout all generations.
You are our guide, our protector, our guardian,
As you have been in all times.
We have passed through more than one Egypt.
Hatred and predudice have set
A heavy yoke around our necks,
But through the darkness of misery and oppression
A ray of your grace has continually shone above us
And has at last brought a morning of redemption
In which our human dignity is recognized
And we live free and undisturbed
Under the protection of mild and just laws.
Oh, may you, O God, continue to be with us.
As in the days when you burst the chains
In which we sighed, and with an awful hand
Broke the yoke of bondage and tyranny,
So may you deliver and redeem our souls
That they may rise above all attacks
From within or without.
As you hurled the many idols and gods of Egypt
from their altars, so may your boundless mercy
Release us from the idols that attract us today,
And let every cell and organ of our bodies be filled
With your incomparable, exalted, and glorious being.
May we be thoroughly infused by faithfulness and love,
By unconditional, unwavering confidence,
And boundless attachment to you.
You are the shield and savior of every human being
As well as of whole nations.
You comfort them
In the midst of trouble and suffering. Amen.