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A Pesach message from Miriam

Dear all,


As we prepare for Pesach - cooking, cleaning, packing or learning - we usually look to imbue all the work with meaning. How can we channel freedom when there’s so much to do? How can we deflate our egos and simplify our palates like the flat, simple matza? 


This year, there is a much bigger set of feelings and associations. Half a year after October 7th, over 130 of our brothers and sisters are still held hostage in Gaza, Israelis are still displaced and traumatised and a feeling of unrest with antisemitism around the world. The unnerving, eerie night we had on motzei Shabbat as missiles made their way through the skies to Israel. And let’s also not shy away from the immense suffering of regular Gazans that has come about over the past six months - also displaced, bereaved, traumatised and facing food scarcity. How can we think about all this through the lens of Pesach? Below are some ideas to consider, possibly to bring to your Seder this year, along with lots of resources to look into. 


May this chag bring release for the hostages, the release of oppression wherever it is found, and freedom for us all. 


Chag kasher v’sameach!

Miriam 



The hostages


My dear chevruta (study partner) Adina Roth, has written a poem that has begun to go viral - in our niche Jewish world at least. I plan to share it at our Seder, and hope you might consider doing the same.

Adina Roth is the Director of Jewish Life at Emanuel School in Sydney. She is a 4th year student at Yeshivat Maharat’s core semicha program.

Reader of the Haggadah: This year, there is a fifth child. The fifth child is the child who Wants to be at the seder but can’t, because she is in captivity in Gaza.

This is her poem:


The Fifth Child

Tonight is Pesach night

And some Jews are not free

As we wash our hands, will they have water to wash theirs?

When the ‘master of the house’ breaks the middle matzah -

Will they invite in their captor to  split the bread of affliction?

Their charoset - the tunnels

The marror - their bitter tears

There will be no meal, no Afikoman

Though we seek them constantly, they are hidden

But when it comes to the telling - I hope they tell.

Like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarayah

Let them tell the story all night long

And be disturbed by a student in the morning saying

‘It is time for the Shema - come, with us’

Except for them  there will be no night

And there will be no day

And there is not yet a student coming with the Shema

But still, how I hope they tell the story



We usually have an empty chair for Eliahu. This year, the Board of Deputies has launched a “Seat for a Hostage” campaign. Head to this site where you can access posters of hostages to reserve a chair for at your seder, and to find information about sharing and spreading awareness. 


Pesach is the festival of our freedom from the most unimaginable captivity. May each and every hostage be freed imminently! 



Antisemitism 


The Pharoah of our exodus story was the first antisemitic leader in the Torah. The text describes the Jews multiplying as if through his eyes, with words like “swarming”, usually used for insects. Pharoah himself says: “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”


Jews then, as now, have been described as enemies hidden within - uncontrolled, scheming and with unknown allegiances. We are sadly seeing this trope continue to emerge in new guises, and the lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism are painfully thin.


At the same time, we cannot walk through the world under this shadow. There are far more good, well-meaning people in the world than there are bad. And our Judaism must always be defined by more than antisemitism - it must be defined by our love of our faith, traditions and community and our values for doing good in the world. Let’s try to walk a little taller this Pesach, and to wear our Judaism with dignity and pride. 


Consider sharing this prayer,“pour out your love”, at your seder, alongside shfoch chamatcha, in recognition of all the good people who have taken care of Jews over the millenia. It is shared in the brilliant Haggadah “A Night to Remember”:




Holding space for empathy with the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza


When we are victims, finding emotional space to consider the suffering of “the other” is a tall order. Particularly for those living in Israel, but even for Jews here in the UK. 


Nevertheless, our texts and traditions around Pesach demand empathy, even with those who seek to kill us. 


On Seder night we take a drop out of our wine cup for each of the Ten Plagues, to recognise the suffering ancient Egypt went through. We tend to make the ten plagues cute and fun with finger puppets and cartoons, but take a look at this image from the Graphic Novel Haggadah, which brings to life how horrific the suffering of some of the Ten Plagues would have been. 





David Zvi Kalman wrote on Facebook recently:


When you dip your finger in the seder wine cup this year to commemorate the fallen Egyptians, maybe this year don’t stop. Keep dipping your finger, from cup to plate, and then maybe put in a thumb, an index, a hand, and spill the cup like a conspicuous Elijah, like a jostled table, until there’s more wine on the table than in the glass, a drop for each plague in the haggadah’s maximalist mathematics of how many plagues were indeed visited there (because every plague is actually many plagues, you see, if you really read about it, if you would just pay attention), and now the cup is empty, the cup is overturned like we wanted, and now we’re one cup short of redemption, but next year four, next year in Jerusalem, next year in the rebuilt city, next year maybe we’ll know, we’ll really know, how to ask about what is different.”


I don’t know if David Zvi Kalman is referring to the same theme as me, but his powerful and poetic phrasing certainly alludes to the idea of our cup being emptied out with the blood spilled in the last six months. This custom calls us to see our own cup far emptier because of the lives others have lost - yes, even those who, like the Egyptians, wanted to kill us. 


Our opening phrase in the Haggadah “let all who are hungry, come and eat” is a call for us to recognise hunger everywhere, and a religious imperative to do what we can to meet that need. 


Finally, I’d like to share a midrash from the Gemara (B. Sanhedrin 39b):


When the Egyptians drown in the Reed Sea, the Rabbis imagine the angels on high breaking into jubilation, only to be sternly rebuked by God: "The works of my hands are sinking into the sea and you want to sing?"


The Gemara is calling us to see that our story of liberation comes intertwined with the suffering of other people. And while those people, the ancient Egyptians, were murderous slave-owners, they too were “the works of God’s hands”. 



The night waiting for Iran’s missiles


Motzei Shabbat was a scary, apocalyptic night of worry and waiting here in the UK, and can only have been on another level for those in Israel. Reading social media it was moving to see Israelis describe the night as leil shimurim - the night of waiting and watching that our ancestors sat through as they waited to be liberated from Egypt. My teacher Rachel Danzinger wrote the following poem as she sat up:


We color our doorways with courage tonight

As we wait

And wait

Out there the mashchit (angel of death) is loose

And moving

(Slowly

So very slowly

An odd pace for us

Us, who are veterans of the sudden flurry

Veterans of October 7th

And the world that quickly fell apart)

But we are here together

Protected, in our homes, tonight

And the doorways are red with our courage

As we stand up to fear with our bodies

By letting them go to sleep.


What is clear is that we Jews see our story today through the lens of our Biblical story and our story through history. Jewish time is not so much linear as cyclical… or maybe more like a spiral - moving forward but at each turn touching pieces of the past. I think our ability to live the trials and tribulations of these times by embodying those of our ancestors is a superpower which binds us together. 


So this Pesach may our hostages be released just as our ancestors were released from their captivity. Let our people go! May the empty chairs be filled once again. May the ancient mutating virus of antisemitism be shown for what it is. May we walk tall with a Judaism that is founded on our faith, traditions and love of community, and may we not define ourselves by a negative identity based on those who seek us harm. May we have faith in the goodness of people. May we have space, even in our own pain and fear, to recognise that more than one group of people is suffering in this mess. May we have empathy and work actively against hunger wherever it is found. And may we stand together as a community, as on leil shimurim, waiting faithfully for the better, more hopeful times that are ahead - the light that simply has to come after the dark night. 


Chag Pesach Sameach 


Read, listen, watch and learn even more here:








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