I spent this past Shabbat with 45 dynamic, young Russian-speaking Olim, none of whom have childhood Pesach memories from the FSU.
When we talked about the upcoming holiday, they shared anecdotes from their first Pesach experiences in university, in the Israeli army or with Israeli friends.
This may sound surprising and even sobering. How is it possible that Pesach, the most celebrated Israeli holiday, was not part of these young Jews’ upbringing? For me, this only accentuates the miracle of their presence in Israel today.
They are the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham:
“The fourth generation will return here.” (Breishit 15:17)
Their Jewish parents or grandparents could not pass on the Jewish “geshtalt”, customs, and knowledge of the pre-War generation. But they, the fourth generation, have returned not only physically to the Jewish homeland, but potentially to the values and vast heritage of their great grandparents.
With the right encouragement and inspiration, young Russian-speaking Olim can now search for the most meaningful expressions of their Judaism in Israel, reacquaint themselves with the Jewish bookshelf, including the deep Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and hopefully build their futures in the uniquely family-oriented and traditional society that is our Start-Up Nation.
And if we invite them to our Pesach Seders, they have a good chance of retaking the reins of their great grandparents in their future Seders with their families, and of fulfilling the mitzvah “Vehigadata l’vincha” — “and you shall recount to your children” their personal stories of Exodus and reclaimed, proud Jewish identity.
This is a critical facet of the “Ma Nishtana” that we must ask ourselves every year. What has changed in our lives since our last Seder, and in the lives of other members of this miraculous generation?
Every Oleh and Seder participant around the world is a manifestation of the physical and spiritual ingathering, anticipated by the prophet Malachi that we read in this week’s Haftarah on Shabbat HaGadol – the “Great Shabbat” before departing Egypt for the Land of Israel, over three thousand years ago, and every year:
“I will send you Elijah the Prophet before God’s great and awesome day. And he will return the fathers’ heart towards their children, and the children’s heart towards their fathers.” (Malachi 3:23)
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach!