UPROOTED: Faith, Migration and Climate Change

By Stephanie Mines, Nurete Brenner and Rabbi Moshe Givental.

In 2019, the Jewish Passover begins on the day before the opening of the Climate Change & Consciousness conference (CCC19). On that evening (of April 19th and the 15th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar), Findhorn will host a women-led, shamanic and music infused Seder praising the Earth and honouring our grief for the losses associated with the many facets of climate change. It will be led by CCC19 participants Nurete Brenner and Liz Meacham.

The Seder is a celebration of liberation; it recognises the courage required in making an exodus out of slavery into the unknown. Even if based on the epic Jewish migration from Egypt to Palestine, this particular Seder will be cross-cultural and intercultural in that it is for people of all faiths or no faith. Featuring themes of migration, trust, gratitude and the interplay of matriarchal and patriarchal cultures, it is offered in the spirit of evolving consciousness. In a sense, it will be held for all those struggling at the very core of their being with the monumental questions that climate change draws forth.

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During the Passover (Pesach) Seder, the story is told and retold, of a band of refugees that escape from slavery and search for freedom as a collective, guided by a prophet named Moses who is their channel for guidance. Pesach embodies themes of migration, wandering and homelessness that have always existed but at the current time seem to be more poignant than ever. Refugees around the world who are yearning for stability, having been uprooted by violence, war and climate change, are increasingly finding doors shut in their faces. Like the ancient Israelites in the historic litany, these innocents seek liberation from shattered lives and a shattering world. Neither can we really feel that we are freed or redeemed whilst 65 million people (and counting) are displaced around the world. The suffering of others is also our suffering.

PassoverYoramRaanan

The deep symbolism of Pesach has many parallels with our present day challenges. The name Passover denotes the story of the Angel of Death passing over the houses of the Hebrews so that their lives could be spared. We pray now that the spectre of death due to the ravages of climate change, pollution and species loss will similarly spare us and guide us to preserve humanity and all species. The centrepiece of the Seder table is a ceremonial plate carrying a mandala of symbolic foods: parsley representing the tree of life; egg, the manifestation of fertility and rebirth; bitter herbs and salt carry the taste and scent of the suffering that accompanies exile and the struggles of nomadic insecurity. Charoset (a sweet mix of apples and nuts) symbolises the sweet potential of transformation amidst that suffering. A shank-bone represents old forms of worship, which begs us to find new pathways to God and our own souls.

Passover Seder Plate

During the service, cups of wine are symbolically poured for Elijah and Miriam; their meaning also parallels challenges of today. Elijah is the Protector; the one who answers the unanswered questions; the Savior of the Last Moment; the one who comes in like a whoosh of air to deliver long awaited solutions. Oh, how we crave an Elijah right now! The premise of CCC19, however, is that each one of us is Elijah and we are all also Miriam, Moses’ sister. Along with her mother, Miriam cast the baby Moses into the Nile in his basket of rushes, but it was Miriam who stayed with the basket, following its journey into the hands of Pharaoh’s own daughter (Image, below left). She, the offspring of a tyrant, dared save a child of the people most despised by him and she raised him in the palace as her own! Such courageous and radical action is perhaps a model for modern day activists. Miriam was able to deliver a message back to the Jewish people that Moses was safe, which was a source of great hope. She also arranged for Moses’ mother to be his wet nurse. This is heart wrenching especially now, when we see migrant children separated from their families who wait with bated breath to learn of their safe reunion.

Moses was the child miraculously saved from Pharaoh’s death decree. Later, during the Exodus, Miriam led the women in dance whilst they wandered, to alleviate the fears and fatigue of the people (Image, above right). She was followed by an unending source of water so that the migrants were never thirsty. So Miriam is fluidity, endurance, perseverance, attentiveness, compassion, continuity and celebration. We leave a space for her at Pesach as we do for the protection and brilliance of Elijah. At sundown on the evening of April 19, 2019, before the start of CCC19, we will call them in so that we can become them.

Children play an important role in the Passover Seder, just as youth are central to CCC19. The four questions that identify why the Seder is held and why this night is unique are traditionally asked by youth in a ritualised way. For this Seder and for CCC19, however, the questions will be revitalised and made contemporary. We, the adults, must come up with answers that inspire us to cross the bridge from the old story of entrapment to the new story of a resilient future. It is the youth who invite us to inquire into why we are here at this juncture. Why is this time different from other times? How shall we meet this looming uncertainty? Findhorn’s CCC19 Seder will open our minds and hearts as the guidance that came to Moses is born in each of us.

The Seder [lit. translation: ‘order’] ritualistically catalogues ten miracles (in the form of ‘plagues’ visited upon Pharaoh) that preceded the exodus from Egypt. These were dramatic natural disasters, much like those currently unfolding all over our planet. As the effects of climate manifest, one can’t help but notice an analogy between the ten plagues as told in the Haggadah (the book that guides us through the Passover ceremony) and the ravages of climate change: “Is the water turning into blood so different than the way we have polluted our streams and waterways with enough toxic chemicals that they are becoming undrinkable? Are boils so different from the spread of malaria due to climate change? The death of ancient Egyptian livestock isn’t so different from the extinction of so many of our modern plants and animals. And thousands of lives are lost today to increased flooding, extreme weather patterns, and degraded environmental health.” The plagues of the myth were not capricious accidents, nor are those of today. They are meant to alert us to the dysfunctional worship of idols which inevitably brings self-ruin. The idolatry of today comes in the form of inflated egos, our need to control, effervescence of greed, illusion that we are separate and independent from the rest of creation, fear of our shadows, and the numb forgetting of our gifts.

While there is no specific mention of resolving trauma in the Hagaddah, the Seder itself is a healing process. It brings together the scattered members of a tribe and joins them in acknowledging the journey to wholeness. Migration can be seen as pilgrimage. It is purification because of the ordeals of the journey and also because we are required to purify before departing by shedding whatever is unnecessary. This lightening of burdens includes the sacrifices that one cannot escape memorialising. In its entirety, the epigenetics of migration land in the bodies of the youth and the children of the future, making their presence in the Passover ritual of reuniting and honouring essential. If we cannot pass our legacy, our wisdom and our history, onto our youth, then all is lost. Passover exists for this purpose of never forgetting what is hard won and wise. In the case of Passover that includes the remarkable resilience of a people who after being enslaved, ridiculed and hounded, found a way, through consciousness and spiritual connection, to search for a new home. This is exactly what healing from trauma does.

The purpose of suffering is the emergence and embodiment of transformative empathy. Empathy is the cornerstone of collaborative problem solving. At this remarkable and unique Passover Seder at Findhorn on April 19, 2019, our community will tap into how the wisdom of the past calls not only to be reiterated but to be alchemized into mentorship for a new era, a new time, a new consciousness that will emerge when we join together at Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth.

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