Next week, I’m looking forward to being reunited with lots of family for the first full family seder in three years. Pandemic restrictions forced us apart the last two Passovers. The fun (and at times awkward and silly) family traditions have had a long hiatus. In that time, the children and adults have aged (perhaps no one more than me). Some of the kids entered middle school, others graduated college and began jobs and all the stages in between. But, hopefully, we will all be together again in just a week.
Yet, while I eagerly look forward to the seders, I can’t purge what I experienced in Poland and at the Ukrainian border out of my mind. I know too many Jews will be unable to experience the same joy of family this Passover, not because of a pandemic, but because a human initiated, brutal war has displaced them. The nearly 10,000 Jews able to make Aliyah in the last five weeks will celebrate Passover in Israel, but we know that many of those families are not a full family unit because men between ages 18-60 are forced to remain in Ukraine. So many of the families I met who are remaining in Europe are also without these male family members. And, we know war always divides families, often with seniors, those with special needs and the ill unable to leave their homes while the younger are able to flee.
I am not one of those who neatly equates what is happening in Ukraine with the Passover story. Passover is about moving from slavery to freedom and this war is indiscriminate in the way innocent civilians are being killed. But for me, one aspect directly connects – the reality and result of hurrying to leave one’s home. In the Passover Haggadah, we read that:
מַצָּה זוֹ שֶׁאָנוֹ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מַה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁלֹּא הִסְפִּיק בְּצֵקָם שֶׁל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהַחֲמִיץ עַד שֶׁנִּגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וּגְאָלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹּת, כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ, כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ, וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם
This matza that we are eating, for the sake of what [is it]? For the sake [to commemorate] that our ancestors’ dough was not yet able to rise, before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed [Himself] to them and redeemed them, as it is stated (Exodus 12:39); “And they baked the dough which they brought out of Egypt into matza cakes, since it did not rise; because they were expelled from Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they made for themselves provisions.
The Jewish people didn’t have time to let their dough rise, so they baked and ate matzah and, as we read above, they were not able to gather everything they would need for their journey (their provisions). While in Poland, I witnessed the same startling phenomenon. This picture was one I took in the Warsaw train station of an older woman with all she could carry.
The human misery is intense and we are doing so much to ease it. And yet, I know there is still so much we must do to relieve some of the pain and burden of leaving one’s home in a hurry.
Wishing you a Chag Pesach Sameach – a very happy Passover. I hope it is one filled with joy from your closest family and friends and that even while enjoying that time together, you think about our extended Jewish family.
If you are hosting a seder of your own this year and would like a refresher course on Leading an Inspiring Seder, be sure to attend this free online session Monday evening with our Jewish Community Foundation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff.
P.S. I’d be remiss to not mention that when you recite “Next Year in Jerusalem”, you do not need wait that long. We can still make space for you on our MEGA MISSION this June!