A giant Cup of Elijah is a tradition we need in this time of crisis

Cup of Elijah City Scene (Credit: D Seldowitz. Image generated using AI at
Cup of Elijah City Scene (Credit: D Seldowitz. Image generated using AI at

Fifty years ago, following the Yom Kippur War, the public menorah emerged as a powerful symbol of Jewish resilience. This Chabad innovation wasn’t just a beautiful display; perhaps inadvertently, in the present moment, it has become a litmus test for determining how safe a place is for Jews. Any institution or jurisdiction that refuses to allow the installation of a public menorah (while simultaneously allowing other religious displays) inadvertently reveals its true colors. Sadly, recent events prove this principle more relevant than ever, consider only how enraged the enemies of our people became when Jewish faces appeared in the form of hostage fliers. The image of the Jew in public is what they cannot stand, and it is precisely this evil that we must defeat.

The horrific wave of antisemitism that followed the attack on Simchat Torah 2023 is unlike anything since the Shoah. The past six months should be described as Kristallnacht in slow motion. In this upheaval we learned that Harvard University reportedly prohibits the Chabad House from leaving their menorah outside overnight due to near certainty that vandalism would occur. It is safe to presume that Harvard was not concerned for Jewish sensibilites but for a potential news cycle that would reflect poorly on the institution. And while strategies to respond to the hatred of and attacks on Jews often succeed in terms of politicians standing up and stating their support for the Jewish People, they fall short in the domains of culture and public discourse. There, poisonous and deceitful ideologies reign, fuelled and amplified by social media algorithms.

For six months, the hatred has endlessly dominated public spaces around the world. And with Passover rapidly approaching, the time to act is now. Jews must never again made to feel afraid to stand proudly as Jews in public spaces. What we need is a new public Passover tradition – a large, symbolic Cup of Elijah. Passover itself celebrates the liberation of our people from those who wished to destroy our bodies and our spirits. The Cup of Elijah represents redemption that occurred long ago and the redemption necessary in every generation. And the Cup of Elijah is already associated with the need to be Jewish in public spaces. Traditionally, Jewish families open their doors during the ceremony, a symbolic act of welcoming the prophet Elijah, whom we describe as visiting the Seder. But consider what this act represented to Jews living in terribly oppressive times. To be proudly Jewish in public could be felt in a passing moment, late at night, while their gentile neighbors soundly slept. Our great-great grandparents stood in their doorways, candles in hand, the Cup of Elijah filled to the brim. And as they stood facing the outside world, they had the audacity to hope. Next year we will be free.

In our day, we are fortunate to have attained enough freedom to live proudly as Jews. A large, public Cup of Elijah would be a powerful statement in these uncertain times. It would be a prominent physical reminder of the miracle of the Jewish People. In this sense, the traditional precept of pirsumei nisa, the publicization of the miracle applies not only to Hanukkah but to Passover as well. We can leave the details of a ceremony open to the imagination, but the central message is this. The Jewish People are a blessing onto the world. And this blessing will be entirely realised when they are free to live as Jews. The Cup of Elijah is a symbol of blessing and redemption. Just imagine the image. A giant cup, beautifully adorned, standing tall in front of synagogues, Jewish community centers, at home, at school, and in the public square. It would be a conversation starter, a chance to educate our neighbors about Passover and the traditions that bind us. More importantly, it would be a public declaration: We are here, we are proud, and we will not be intimidated.

For a half a century, the public menorah has served its purpose well. Let the public Cup of Elijah join it in the public eye. Let it become our symbol of resilience and of openness. The enduring spirit of the Jewish people will not falter. Let it their celebration of Passover be a blessing in a time of anguish and sorrow, a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope in a world in crisis.

About the Author
Dovi Seldowitz is a PhD student (Sociology) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Previously, Dovi directed and curated the 2022 B’nai B’rith Kabbalah Exhibition and was the recipient of the UNSW University Medal in Sociology and Anthropology for his Honours thesis on Hasidic women’s leadership.
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