This week’s Seder will probably be the most challenging for Jews worldwide since the Shoah (Holocaust). No one can even remember a time since then when the heaviness of the times cast such a pall over what is clearly the quintessential family event in the Hebrew calendar. Families will perform the rituals of the Seder separated from most of their loved ones, from their friends and even from those strangers who are often invited to participate with us as we retell the story of our historical journey from slavery to freedom.
There have been dozens of articles written about how best to address the specific challenges of this year’s Seder. There are even some well-respected Sephardi rabbis who have gone so far as to suggest that religious families can connect with their relatives via zoom, even though the general religious community rejects that option on halachic grounds.
So, while our synagogues are closed thus rendering it impossible for us to connect with others in that framework, there is one opportunity to connect that is actually the manifestation of what took place here in Jerusalem during the days of the second Temple.
During that period in our history the Jews of Jerusalem would ascend to their roofs during the Seder and sing Hallel, the traditional psalms of praise recited on the holiday. It is puzzling to conceive of how they did that in unison as each family’s Seder is of different length. Nevertheless, the concept can be replicated this week in Jerusalem by shifting the time somewhat to a moment when, indeed, everyone will be, more or less, at the same place in their observance.
When is that? In most synagogues, after the recitation of Arvit, the evening service in the synagogue, Hallel is recited, the only time we do so at night. This Wednesday, that will occur at approximately 7:40 PM pretty much everywhere in the city.
My suggestion is that at that time on Wednesday evening, all of us should go onto our terraces and chant Hallel together, each person with his neighbor in sight and in praise of the miracle of our being able to do this in Jerusalem, in Israel, and even in spite of the crisis in which we find ourselves.
Someone I shared this with thought it was a good idea but wanted to know if all of us are going to do this with the same melodies and how we will coordinate that? My answer was, it does not matter. No doubt, given the places from which we all come, there will be different melodies used in different parts of the city but the words and the meaning will be the same. Jews, living in the holy City of Jerusalem after 2,000 years and in the face of the worst plague to descend on the world in many generations, singing the praises of Hallel together in unison.
Of course the melodies in one neighborhood will be different from those in another. But, together, all of these various melodies but with the same words, will meld into a magnificent chorus of celebration and an affirmation of faith so that it will sound as if there was a city-wide choir producing a harmonious melody wafting over the skyline of our city.
I, for one, will be on my terrace in Katamon at 7:40 PM on Wednesday night and hope that you will join me and create an aura of enchantment that has not been seen here in generations. Then when we all go inside to recite the story of our exodus, we will fully understand how lucky we are to be able to do this in Jerusalem, even under these difficult circumstances. It will be something we, our children and grandchildren will remember for many years. Let’s make it happen!