Sarah Mali

Passover as our lives

Each year at Passover, we say that we are commanded to see ourselves as if we came from Egypt. We sing songs that take us back to our own (somewhat distant) childhood and tell a story of an Israelite people of somewhere else and a long ago. We ask the eternal question, “Why is this night different than all other nights?”

This year, the night is different because it is not a retrospective. For many of us in Israel and around the world, Oct 7 has made the years we celebrated Passover appear a mere rehearsal for the real Passover we have been facing for 194 days: a Passover of slavery and persecution that is acute, imminent, actual and personal.

The context in which Moses is born in Egypt, the beginning of our Passover story, is one of harsh decree. Pharaoh has ordered that the midwives dispose of male Hebrew infants. When this law is foiled, it is followed by a more severe ruling, that all Egyptians be involved in the drowning of all Israelite male infants. It is within this crisis that the Israelites face down their own terror and continue to bear children. Israelites open to life in a time of genocide.

This representative story has felt all too real and current in the past months when we have wept with joy at the birth of Israeli babies born in the shadow of the horrific acts of the genocide of Simchat Torah.

A particular case in point is our daughters’ dear friend, about whom I have written previously. Her husband was killed on October 7, a short few months after their wedding. A week ago, she celebrated the brit (circumcision) of their newly born son.

Speaking at her son’s brit, the new mother and recent widow said, “many people encourage me to see my son as my rock and my comfort.” Standing upright she continued, “They are wrong. That is not how it should be. I will be my baby’s rock and I will be the source of his strength, and I will bring comfort to my son. I am his mother. This is my role.”

To be able to stand in the face of trauma fully, as Paul Celan has observed, “involves keeping terror and courage, the “No” and the “Yes”, the fullness of the void, un-split.” The Israeli spirit is fueled by terror and courage. This, in my opinion, is what makes for the Israeli grit. The full-bodied daring. The ability to do the unthinkable. It is what makes the everyday Israeli get in their car and drive south towards the furnace of the Gaza envelope on that cursed day, because they know the terror and know they need to act. It is what drives the endless, almost fanatic generosity of one Israeli towards another. And it is what makes a young mother tell her compassionate audience, I will be my son’s comfort and not the other way round.

The newborn was named Oz by his mother, the name his fallen father wanted for his firstborn son.

Oz in Hebrew means strength.

Passover is, as almost never before since the Exodus itself, the story of our lived experience.

May we in Israel and around the Jewish world, find the strength to live it with joy.

Chag Sameach

Inspired by Aviva Zornbergs’ book Moses, A Human Life

About the Author
Sarah Mali is the director general of Jewish Federations Canada-UIA. Sarah has served the Jewish community for over two decades and is a prolific writer and public speaker in Israel and globally.
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