Sasha Sagan talks with humanist rabbi GREG EPSTEIN about an ancient tradition they participate in each year, with themes and messages they find both inspiring and abhorrent. How can a thoughtful person engage a tradition shot through with such contradictions?

We’ll also hear from historian of religion DR. CAROLE CUSACK about how this tradition and others like it connect with the deep cycles of the earth and its creatures.


GREG EPSTEIN: I’m always reflecting on the idea that I don’t believe that this story literally happened. And in fact, I believe, based on archaeological evidence, based on literary analysis, based on anthropology and psychology as well, that this was a story fabricated by ancient Jews 2000, 2500 or so years ago, as a way of legitimizing the fact that they wanted to see themselves as the people not only in their little New-Jersey-sized slice of land that was shared by other people then and now, but that they were the main people in all of the world—that they were the chosen people, and that this was the story of how they were chosen to be set apart from other people.

That idea of one chosen people that I’m part of is actually more than a little bit abhorrent to me, Sasha.

The idea that one is held in captivity, and then can go free, is beautiful. But the idea that it only gets to happen in this special way to one group of people, and that I am lucky enough to be part of that people is is, is an anathema. It’s something that I really actively want to work to divorce myself from. Yeah. And so you know, every year there’s this sort of process that goes on again and again of how am I going to do that? How am I going to mark the beauty of the fact that I’m a person that comes from an ancestry, a culture, a civilization, a family I want to mark that and there’s this beautiful way of marking it, but there’s a message at the heart of marking it that I want to reject, I want to distance myself from, and I want to teach to my children now that it’s not what it’s really all about.

SASHA SAGAN: How do you see spring celebrations moving and changing, evolving into the future? And what do you wish people better understood about our connection to this time of year?

DR. CAROLE CUSACK: Well, I suppose one thing is that we’re currently in an environmental crisis. And everybody must know this. Though sometimes it doesn’t seem like they do. I think a lot of Rachel Carson’s amazing book Silent Spring, which I think was published in 63, a year after I was born. And she talked about the loss of Birdsong, especially being one of the signs that things weren’t the same, you know, they really weren’t that good. I think that spring celebrations should be or I’d love them to be primarily about environmental healing, you know. I think that we could all benefit from spring holidays, being genuinely about renewal, the renewal of nature, the renewal of our only home—this planet.