Ralph Genende
Ralph Genende

It was the year of living dangerously

It was the year of living dangerously; it was the year of living anxiously. It was the year of living in confinement, it was the year of enslavement to a tiny, elusive tyrant.

It was the year before the exodus when the world turned upside down – weird plagues scarred the land and people’s hearts. The darkness was desperate; people could not see one another, they could not reach out and touch each other. And then there were the horrible deaths – no house left untouched by the grinning, anarchic angel.

It was 1320 BCE; it was 2020 CE. It was Egypt, a place of captivity and confinement; the very name of the country in Hebrew – Mitzrayim – is a synonym for narrowness, stifling straits. The Psalmist rhymes out his despair in a similar phrase: Min Hameitsar Karati, I called out to God from the strictures of my soul.

It was Melbourne and Mumbai, it was Johannesburg and Jerusalem, New York and London. And in 2020/5780 we called out from our solitary places of confinement, the dark spaces that distanced us, the decrees that forbade us from reaching out and hugging one another, that separated grandparent from grandchild, friend from friend, neighbour from neighbour. We didn’t need anyone to read Mah Nishtana (how is this night different) for everything had changed, everybody knew this seder was not beseder, the bitter herbs were the raison detre of the night, the matza lingered with its mocking reminder that it was the poor bread of affliction.

But now it’s 2021/5781, both years that signify a new start, we’re back to one. As Leonard Cohen so poignantly put it:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away…

So, we start again this Nissan, this springtime month in Israel with a spring in our step, a jab in our arm, a promise of a new liberation from the regally named tyrant, Coronavirus. This, we declare, is the season of our new freedom, this is a time of hope for the world. This year in Australia we shall seder together with our families, we shall drink the 4 cups of sweet wine with joy and relief, the matza will prompt us to recall it as freedom food. And we will end the night with a redemption song for our beleaguered planet: Next year in Jerusalem, next year you shall hear the sound of rejoicing, the streets thronging with young and old, bride and groom….

Chag Pesach Kasher Sameach from Caron and my family to you and yours.

Rabbi Ralph Genende OAM

About the Author
Born in Zimbabwe, raised in South Africa, Rabbi Ralph Genende is a well-known and popular Modern Orthodox Rabbi. Ralph was Senior Rabbi to the Auckland, New Zealand Jewish community for ten years. He then became College Rabbi at Mount Scopus College, member of its Executive Team and Rabbi of Beit Aharon congregation. Currently Rabbi Genende is Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, one of Melbourne’s largest congregations. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist and they have three children – Eyal (who is married to Carly), Daniella and Yonatan and a grandson Ezra.
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