12/13 April 2024, 5 Nisan 5784

The year is marching on.

Passover is fast approaching.

We know the theme – going from a narrow place to a wide expanse. Min Hameitzar karate yah v’anani v’merchav yah. (Psalm 118) The writer Michael Walzer wrote: wherever you live, it is probably Egypt; second; that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land; and third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness.

That is the theme of the holiday: moving from oppression to freedom; opening our hearts, our homes and our tables, as the Haggadah calls, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

This year, we at FPS wanted to reach out to the unaffiliated – to friends and to family of our members – to open our doors pre-Passover on 20th April – to converse about what it means to be Jewish right now; to meet the central story of our tradition and tell the Seder, “We were slaves in Egypt…”

Because what will Pesach be like this year? What will we add to our telling to reflect what is happening around us? Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, a thoughtful and interesting Orthodox rabbi, wrote, “the Egyptian experience may therefore be regarded as the fountainhead and moral inspiration for the teaching of compassion, which is so pervasive in Jewish law.” We all know the goal of Jewish law and tradition is to cultivate people of compassion. There are various ways to do that with the Seder and Passover experience.

Some might add a beetroot to the seder plate as a sign of solidarity for the ongoing war against Ukraine – beetroot being an obvious national food – think borscht. Rabbi Igor Zinkov suggests eating it after the bitter herbs and using its Hebrew name selek (סלק) and seeing in it the word for retreat, yistalku (יסתלקו).

May it be your will Eternal God that all enemies will retreat.

Some may set an extra seat for one of the hostages, an initiative by the Board of Deputies, printing a picture and talking about an individual far from home and the redemption and release the Passover story tells.

Some may place an olive branch – the symbol of peace – or a few olives on the Seder plate. Olive trees have long been destroyed by Israeli settlers, leading to Palestinian suffering. Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel (a multi denominational group) often replant them with communities. Now, with the devastation of Gaza and mass starvation there, perhaps some will set an empty bowl on their seder table, or even bird seed, to represent what some are reduced to foraging and eating. This could perhaps open conversations about different suffering as we list the biblical plagues. We’ll have a chance to talk about what we all might like to do.

Shabbat Shalom,