Matt Vogel

Next year in Burlington. Next year in Jerusalem.

I’m thinking a lot about the Passover meaning right now as we get ready for hundreds of University of Vermont students in the Davis Center tonight for Hillel’s seder.
How do I reconcile the ancient call for a return to Jerusalem with the violence and strife happening on the streets of Israel and Gaza and across the world?
How do I call for liberation and freedom for the hostages who can’t celebrate Passover with their families while so many other people in the world are held captive to oppression?
How do I create space so every Jewish student, no matter their beliefs, are able to find community around a Passover seder table when Jewish people are so simultaneously divided and united like never before.
How can I ensure a safe and joyous celebration when things seem so tense on college campuses?
I’m Jewish. I believe Israel has a right to exist. I also believe – as the Bundists did, in doykhait “hereness” – that one can be as Jewish as they want to be in the place where they live. I believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve leaders that allow them all to live in safety and security. I believe you can hold empathy for Palestinians and Israelis at the same time. I believe in justice and I believe in peace. I believe that a student identifying as Zionist or anti-Zionist or anywhere beyond or in between deserves a supportive and safe Jewish community. I believe that Jewish identity is a constantly evolving story in dialogue with one’s-self and the world around us.
Tonight’s story is a celebration of freedom from oppression and prayers for those who remain oppressed.
Tonight’s story is meant to uplift us while reminding us of calamitous times of plagues and suffering.
Tonight’s story is meant to remind us that we too were at the shores of the Red Sea.
Tonight’s story is full of metaphorical meaning that allows us to place ourselves simultaneously in the context of our ancestors and the shoes of others today.
Tonight’s story is one of gefilte fish and charoset and matzo and brisket and green onions and quajado and jelly sugared fruit slices and four cups of wine (or grape juice) and an aspiration for renewal.
Tonight’s story allows you to take your own beliefs and manifest them on your seder plate in the form of an orange (LGBTQ+ inclusion), or an olive (peace between Israelis and Palestinians), or an acorn (acknowledging the original people before their land was stolen), or a potato (to recognize Ethiopian Jews), or whatever item you endow with symbolic meaning to make it personal and real for you.
Passover has always evolved and adapted to reflect the conditions of the day. It was not until the Middle Ages that the now familiar conclusion to Passover was added to the Haggadah. Since then, we repeat “next year in Jerusalem” to end our seder celebrations. I invite you to find your own relationship to that phrase tonight.
Whatever your beliefs, whatever your perspectives, whatever your religious practice, I wish you a week of reflection and connection to the deeper meanings of Passover.
Next year in Burlington.
Next year in Jerusalem.
Next year in peace.
About the Author
Matt Vogel is the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Vermont and has spent his career supporting Jewish students on campus.
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