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Passover in a Time of Heartache

What are we to make of Passover this year? How can we celebrate our freedom when our brothers and sisters remain as hostages half a world away? How do we focus our attention on ancient hardship when our current hardship is so poignant and so real? How do we raise up the wonder of the Promised Land when its administration continues to fall short of Jewish values and ideals? Indeed, amid a holiday predicated around questions, we have no shortage of questions this year.

If you think Passover feels different this year, you are not alone. Since October 7, we have lived with heavy hearts. It was the deadliest day ever in Israel. It was a day of heartache and profound loss. The IDF soon thereafter endeavored to root out the Hamas terrorists responsible for such horrific carnage. And, slowly, while we were looking the other way, antisemitism came raging to the fore like it hadn’t in generations. We felt it on college campuses, online, at work and school. We saw it in congress. We saw it in communities across America and around the world. Together we prayed and sang and talked and tried. We cried and asked out loud what would be.

While we grieved and groped for answers, we eventually felt new pains, watching a humanitarian crisis unfold in Gaza in no uncertain terms, a people suffering under the weight of their immoral leadership and an Israeli government hell-bent on bloodshed. Our broken heart fractured further.

If you’re conflicted, if you’re hurting, I am with you. Your Jewish heart is doing what it’s meant to do: caring. You have a good, honest heart and this is why you are so wounded by the events unfolding all around us: misinformation, war, hate, starvation, loss, cycles of tragedy. We have to do everything in our power to keep caring. As Jews we do so for the sake of imbuing our world with some humanity in this time of gross, widespread inhumanity. As the Mishnah teaches us: ‘In a place where there are no humans, you must strive to be human.’ (Pirkei Avot 2:5)

Our lives feel as fragile as a piece of matza right now. I get it. I am living it right beside you as a rabbi, as a parent, as a proud member of this people. We keep an eye not only on Israel and Gaza, but Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Ukraine, starvation in Sudan, poverty around the world, hate and prejudice in too many places to count.

The news feels as bitter as the maror on the seder plate. We can barely stomach it.

At the end of the seder each year, we say, ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ This year that phrase means more. It’s a prayer that the hostages come home soon. It’s a prayer that you and I get to see and experience Israel again soon. It’s a hope that Israel as a whole can become more like Jerusalem and all that Jerusalem has always stood for: diversity, multiculturalism, the lasting coexistence of peoples and stories.

May this Passover remind us of the great resilience and strength of our people. May it remind us to be proud of who we are. May we arrive next Passover at a world of greater peace.