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Fri, Oct. 18

Harmonic convergence: Easter, Passover fall on the same weekend in a rare confluence

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Happy holidays.

We deck December with more carols and jingles than April, but this is arguably the most appropriate time for season's greetings.

Part of that is because the April calendar includes Easter and Passover - major, if not the most important, holy days in Christianity and Judaism.

Easter is when Christians celebrate the resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ. For some believers, observance began with Lent weeks ago. The main holiday is Easter Sunday, today.

Passover is when Jews celebrate the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. It began with a Friday Seder dinner and lasts for a week, this week.

There're a multiplicity of practices, permutations and related liturgies in both traditions, but there're commonalities, as illustrated in the following vignettes.

Any given Sunday

Every day is Easter for Jim Moll.

"It's the most important holiday on our church calendar, but it's seamless with how we try to live our lives," said Moll, a three-decade Prescott resident. "Jesus rose, gave us the keys to kingdom of Heaven and told us to serve each other. That's the emphasis of Easter, but it's also something to live every day."

Moll helped build the Laestadian Lutheran Church in Prescott Valley. He's a church-every-Sunday and Bible-study-Wednesday kind of guy.

"Religion has always been the most important thing in my life," said Moll, who grew up in a family of five in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

A lot of his neighbors were Laestadian Lutherans. The faith began in Sweden during the 19th century and germinated in the U.S. via Scandinavian immigrants.

"It's a very simple faith. We're saved by grace alone," Moll said, further stressing community and compassion.

He and his family got together Saturday for an Easter weekend celebration. He has 16 children, many of whom are in the area, and festivities like this are fairly common, but there's a twist.

"We've asked permission to use the church for the family get together after morning services," Moll said. "It's not just Easter. Some of them came from the north, so it's a nice spring break. And, you know, it's good to see everyone."

Moll's had rough patches, but he said his faith is stronger for it.

"In a large family, there are difficult times and situations ... but that's never diminished my faith," Moll said. "I've got this network of people, both my family and my extended family to help me along."

Extended family?

"Of course," Moll said. "My church."

Return to form

For the fourth consecutive year, Stan Katz sat down to a Seder Passover dinner Friday.

"It's a celebration of our freedom from captivity, from bondage in Egypt," said Katz, who moved to Prescott 11 years ago and is a member of Beit Torah. "It's a really spiritual, uplifting time, and I feel even better about being recommitted to Judaism."

There wasn't a large Jewish community in the small Minnesota town where he grew up as an only child. His family drove to a synagogue, some-90 miles away, for major holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but stayed in town for Passover.

"We had a Passover Seder with the other five or six Jewish families in town. We all got together and it was a lot of fun," Katz said. "As I grew up, I just got away from the religion but, and this is just a warning, you tend to get back to your religious roots."

No major life event instigated the switch - "Having spare time helps," Katz quipped. But Judaism has become a bigger part of his life than it's ever been.

"I'm deeply into Judaism right now, saying morning prayers and really getting into it," Katz said, adding, "With Passover, I stop and reflect on my heritage even more."

His adult daughter isn't fully on board, but that doesn't faze him.

"I don't want to press too hard, or she'll get really resistant to it," Katz said. "I try to share it with her, but it's up to her to decide. I know, for me, it's something I wish I'd gotten back to a long time ago."

Family ties

Paul Katan enjoyed a Seder Passover dinner Friday, but his appreciation differed from some of those in attendance.

"The Passover Seder is filled with so many good reminders about the world we live in, about being a good person, and is really a story about justice and getting out of master-slave relationships," Katan said.

Still don't see the difference?

"I don't see it as much of a difference, but if you asked most of my relatives if they believed in God, or even the word 'god,' they'd give you a point blank answer. I won't," said Katan, who moved to Prescott about 14 years ago. "I'm Jewish because that's my culture, community and family history."

Katan has been involved with the Prescott Freethinkers for a couple of years, and, during that time has toyed with how to describe his beliefs. If you've got to have a label, he prefers "humanistic Jew."

"The humanism is because, well, it's not a religious or anti-religious thing," Katan said. "I have the same issues with the words 'atheist,' 'agnostic,' and 'secular' that I do with 'God.'"

His family has always been involved in the Jewish community, including back when they lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. before he and his three siblings - he's the eldest, as he beat his twin sister into the world by four minutes - moved to Arizona when he started counting his age on two hands.

Katan doesn't take the godly aspects of Passover literally, he appreciates the symbolism, which he sees as nearly identical to that of Christianity's Easter.

"It's easy to identify the symbols for seasonal changes and rebirth," he said. "I think it's something that can not only remind us of who we are and how we're changing, but how we're all connected to each other, in the broadest sense."

In the end, it's about family.

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