The Work of Redemption

How can you not love Pesach? It is true, depending on your level of observance, there can be a lot of hassle, with changing dishes, getting rid of non-Passover foods and stocking your fridge and pantry with all that is kosher for Passover (and fairly pricey, I would add). I still follow those customs, although not to the extent that my parents did in the house that I grew up in. But that inconvenience is dwarfed by the richness of the festival, in particular, the family Seder.

Published in The Times of Israel on April 14, 2023

I love hearing about the various ways that people conduct their seders. We have had the custom for years of starting the first hour in our family room to discuss one theme in depth before we take our places around the dining room table with all the symbolic foods and ritual objects. This year we talked about how Ukrainian Jews took part in seders, under the most challenging, wartime conditions. The story about how the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Federation system as well as Chabad, made Passover foods and seders possible is a story that can and should be told for years to come. Many Ukrainian Jews that never before had a seder made a point to attend one this year—both an act of defiance against their Russian invaders and an expression of their cultural identity.

Of course, the extent to which world Jewry and the organizations that represent it, mobilized to support the Ukrainian Jewish community should be a great source of pride for all Jews. Kol Yisrael areivim, zeh b’azeh, “all Jews are responsible, one for the other” is not only a motto from the Talmud, it has served as a rallying cry for Jews to act on for centuries.

In the late 1980’s, I was at a fundraising dinner in Washington D.C. A civil war was raging in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims and there were thousands of Lebanese dying in the conflict. My tablemate was a Lebanese Christian ex-pat, living in the U.S. He bemoaned the fact that not a single Muslim or Christian NGO, anywhere in the world, was lifting a finger to help their co-religionists with humanitarian aid. Knowing that I was a rabbi he added with admiration, “Jews would never allow this to happen to their own.”

May the work of “redemption,” that is the theme of Pesach, continue.