Mar 10, 2021  By Yossi Kahana  Category: Education,

Passover: This year, coronavirus heightens freedom themes

As Jewish people around the world prepare for Passover under the pale of coronavirus, we are faced with a host of new challenges and questions. Passover is traditionally spent with family and friends, a celebration of the divine gift of Jewish survival and community. But with coronavirus curtailing travel plans and social interactions, many are facing the prospect of celebrating Passover alone. How to celebrate the seder alone? How will we celebrate the festival of freedom with our movement restricted?

What we are celebrating this Passover?

The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. It is observed by avoiding leaven and highlighted by the seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

While the whole world is grounded on the tarmac, tell the story of an exodus from excruciating restriction to holy freedom. It is the story of our own people -- of you and I -- of some 4,000 years of eternity.

We will sit with our family, or our roommate, or just ourselves and the creator of the universe. As with every year, we will begin the seder by opening a door, Ha Lachma Anya, or inviting in the hungry, the needy, and the enslaved. We offer the matzah as part of that welcome. It is a beautiful message offered freely and inclusively to all. When we read about the four sons, each of whom represents a different personality type -- a cross section of the Jewish nation -- we may think about JNF's affiliate MAKOM communities. 

What links the four sons together, despite their very different personalities and levels of observance, is the fact that they are all an intrinsic part of the Jewish people. During Pesach, we celebrate with them, as their spirit joins us at the seder table. 

"What transforms the bread of oppression into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share it with others…” Being willing to share and include is also the first step in creating the feeling of community and acceptance of everyone. This frees us of that very human fear of difference. Breaking matzah together can ease the way toward reducing misgivings  -- over an evening replete with ice-breaking conversation and group activities.

An inclusive community is reminiscent of those first seders in Egypt -- doors open, tables set, bags packed -- ready and hopeful for a community adventure all would experience together.

In Israel, Pesach has created a palpable sense of excitement within Jewish National Fund's extended family. Jewish National Fund’s work for individuals with disabilities and special needs in Israel (which I am privileged to lead) ensures that all of our children with disabilities will have the same sense of belonging, of being part of the family, of being an integral part of the Jewish nation.

The first night of Passover is an especially transcendental night. It's a night that puts past and present into perspective. It is something beyond today’s headlines. It reminds us that there is a purpose to everything, meaning hiding in every corner, a destiny to this awesome world. Eventually, it will all make sense. Eventually, we will all be free.

If you think about it, on the very first Passover in ancient Egypt, each family was sequestered in their home. No one was permitted to step outdoors. Outside their homes, a plague swept through the land; but in each Jewish home, there was light and hope.

The next morning, the Jewish people left for the Promised Land.

Now we are here. This year in Jerusalem.

Author, Yossi Kahana is a director of JNF Task Force on Disabilities.