This piece originally appeared on The Blog at 16th and Q.
With the Cherry Blossom Festival commencing and the flowers out in full force, it’s no longer doubtful (despite the recent weather) that Spring is officially here. Recently author Rob Sachs posted an article titled, “An Afternoon of Cherry Blossoms and Swastikas” on The Huffington Post about his unique experience at the annual festival this past weekend. His article is a short piece about his weekend jaunt through the Tidal Basin and then, unexpectedly, into the adjacent United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Sachs juxtaposes the joyful nature of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to the pain and suffering on display within the neighboring museum and draws a comparison to the Jewish tradition of stepping on a glass; he attributes this tradition, as do many, to the call from the Jewish community to remember the pain of the past even in the most joyous moments of our lives.
To that end, Springtime, for Jews, is all about celebration and juxtaposition. During Purim, for example, we are literally commanded to eat, drink, and throw raucous parties, while simultaneously crying out the name of our enemies and exterminators over and over until we’re numb to the sound. Likewise, Passover, which is right around the corner, requires us to eat and drink like Kings and Queens. However, we still must dip our greens in the tears of our ancestors and spread the bitter pain of the Jews of yester-year all over our matzot. While these are the traditions many of us grew up with, maybe it’s time to consider adding some new traditions to our beloved springtime regiment of Food with Reflection. Bad things happened in the past, and it’s important to remember them, nevertheless it’s also important to reflect and act upon the struggles our communities face today. There’s no better time than Spring – the season of renewal and hope – to get involved.
This April, for example, consider coming out to volunteer with the Washington DC JCC’s Spring into Action program on April 10th. This annual event raises awareness about local environmental issues while providing opportunities for the community to engage with each other and work hand-in-hand towards a solution. This year the event is themed around urban agriculture, community gardening, and park restoration. With oil prices, obesity rates, and unemployment all on the rise, it’s important to remember that our food system isn’t just about food; the way we grow our food impacts the environment, our health, and the economic and employment stability of our communities. Local and sustainable agriculture is a great source of fair employment, healthy food, and community-building throughout the greater Washington DC area – don’t miss out on this great chance to meet some local farmers, advocates, and other families in your own neighborhoods. And bring the kids! This year we’ve planned Spring into Action to fall in line with Earth Day and Global Youth Action Day, so come out, celebrate Spring, and sow some seeds of change.
If you’re looking for a new twist on Passover, also consider heading over to the Rainbow Seder with DCJCC’s GLOE or the Labor Seder with Jews United for Justice. Both of these seders will be fun, meaningful ways to explore some of the most important social issues of our time – the rights of the LGBTQ international community and the struggle to find -and keep – good jobs. And there’s nothing like Jewish guilt and copious amounts of food to drive a movement so don’t wait to jump on board: both of these events tend to sell out every year.
At the end of Sachs aforementioned article, he pondered that maybe his detour into the museum wasn’t so random after all; as Jews, we are inexplicably tied to a history of people that have sought justice for themselves and their communities for millennia. No matter what your favorite part of Springtime is – the eating, the socializing, or the reflecting – take a break from the normal routine and make this holiday intentional by exploring not just the issues of the past, but those pertinent to our communities today. And don’t forget to stop and smell the blossoms! Spring is as fleeting as it is special. Take advantage of it.