Harriet Gimpel

Questions for a Holiday

On Thursday evening, we had a discussion with our six-year-old granddaughter.  It didn’t seem like the subject of an opening sentence for this weekly update, but she asked a question, and questions are on my mind. When I take her every Thursday to her gymnastics class, we walk by a large poster going from the parking lot into the building showing all the hostages taken from Israel by Hamas on October 7. I have no doubt that she has heard the word “hostages.” In the spirit of telling the truth with selective details, when she first asked me, I told her the people in the picture are all people that we want to come home, who aren’t at home, and it has to do with the war.

Over the months, hearts and fractured hearts have been added next to some of the faces – a heart next to those who have been released, a broken heart next to those we know are no longer alive. This week she commented on the hearts, and then, because her father is away on reserve duty because of the war, and we want him to come home, she asked if he is in the picture. I kissed her and told her that her dad is not in the picture, that people on reserve duty are not in the picture.

It is certainly the time of year for questions. Passover is next week.  How do you wish people a happy holiday this Pesach? Saying “chag sameach – happy holiday – to the extent possible,” has become my way of saying it.  As the holiday approaches my irrational fears of something happening during Pesach like it did on October 7, on Simchat Torah, are actually progressively diminishing. I am deluged in the last few days, following all the excitement coming from the Islamic Republic, with analyses rather than fears going through my mind. Questions, lots of questions. Interpretations – but I won’t go there. Knowledgeable commentators abound, so I will leave it to them.

Distracted by the events of the last week, the war in Gaza moved into the margins. Yet when the weather warranted going to the beach in Tel Aviv, the media showed us Gazans at the beaches too, and barbecuing, amidst the famine of the previous week. I do not doubt the need for humanitarian aid and food in Gaza, just as I do not doubt that there are people in Gaza who barbecued last week. I would not want to be a Gazan either way.

A little more action in the north last week. Hezbollah. Hamas. Islamic Republic… and back to Gaza, and Lebanon, and thinking how the people of Iran could be living today under different leadership; the beautiful, developed missed potential of Lebanon; and back to Gaza. Back to what attacks on Israel really represent, and who. My thoughts wander. The coalition of nations that could rebuild Gaza. The Israel that could accept that.

Then I think about Pesach again, the Hagadah and asking questions. At the traditional seder meal on the first night of Passover, we read the Hagadah. Etymologically, Hagadah relates to telling, telling a story – the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt after the plagues. The same story is told and retold every year, but an integral part of the process involves the participants at the dinner table asking questions, enabling discussion, interpretation, and a vicarious experience of the story told.  By the questions, each year, new lessons emerge from the same story. Children are introduced to the process when they ask four questions by the book regarding the distinguishing characteristics of the holiday, why we traditionally eat only matza this night and refrain from eating bread, why we practice behaviors symbolic of our new freedom, yet also reminiscent of our tears.

At the end of this Passover, hopefully all Jews will have spent time asking questions, questions about the world we have created and how the ills of this world can be redressed. During this period of war and destruction, I hope our society and our leaders alike will ask bold questions and that new answers emerge, compelling people everywhere to demand peace.


Harriet Gimpel, April 20,2024


About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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