by Adam Silver
(Calgary) – At the time of composing this message, my family has just finished Pesach, followed by the usual returning of our kitchen back to chametz and year-round status. Even with the diligent and intentional efforts its preparations and cleanup require, Pesach is one of my family’s favourite chagim (holidays). Perhaps, it’s BECAUSE of that very work and intentional focus that we appreciate the time together and the distinctiveness of the holiday’s menu, history, and customs, from the seders on the first two nights right through the end of the eighth day. Each year, during our seders, we reflect on two things that, to me, are especially relevant this year.
The first is our retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We recall the full story year after year, ensuring everyone at the seder not only understands the story, but engages with the experience as if we, too, were there. Our focus while using the Haggadah as our guide is on the multi-generational nature of the story (each generation has experienced stories of challenge, oppression, and redemption), and on the diversity of those who might be around our seder tables. From modern additions to the seder plate to highlight other injustices and marginalized peoples, to items that signal that all are welcome, we establish modern connections to our legacy exodus story. Reflecting on the four children, as an example, we also identify different personalities, or different components of our own personalities, that might determine how we experience the seder. In one Haggadah, my family read a piece about four daughters, which highlighted values and aspirations in carrying forward all that we learn in the story of our journey to freedom from Pharoah. Given the state of the world, and the complexity of our own community, to me these messages remain extremely relevant.
The second item that stands out to me each and every year –and this year in particular– is our singing of “L’shanah Ha’baah B’Yerushalyim – Next Year in Jerusalem!” During most years, I experience this as a fun moment, and a dream of visiting Israel with my family in the near future. However, this year, I found myself deeply reflecting on our incredible homeland, the many challenges Israel is experiencing at this time, and the divisiveness there and in the diaspora that continues to be cause for concern. Political and religious disagreement, ideological polarization and lack of cohesion, acts of terror, and growing military tension all threaten to harm our beloved Israel. Again, this part of the seder resonated strongly for me this year.
As we approach Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut (perhaps by the time this message is read, they will have already passed), we must note and celebrate that for 75 years Israel has overcome pressures and experiences like no other country, forging a Jewish State built on innovation, resilience, faith, and Peoplehood. Israel has also become a beacon of hope for Jews –and many non-Jews– around the world, driven by a moral compass of compassion, care, and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Now is not a time to give up on Israel. It is not a time to seed division in our diaspora communities. It is not a time to provide ammunition to those who would do ill to our homeland and our brothers and sisters there.
Now is the time to remember the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt and our ancestors’ journey to Eretz Israel. It is the time to celebrate 75 years of Israel’s statehood, and to remember the priceless sacrifices made by so many to establish, maintain, and protect our homeland. And it is the time to come together to actualize what we recite each seder – “L’shanah Ha’baah B’Yerushalyim – Next year in Jerusalem!”
Adam Silver is CEO, Calgary Jewish Federation.
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