Time for a New Beginning

Table at Hatufim (Hostages) Square in Tel Aviv
Table at Hatufim (Hostages) Square in Tel Aviv

Of all the Jewish holidays, Pesach is the one I remember most from my childhood in Poughkeepsie, NY.

I would’ve thought Hanukkah would be more memorable, with the presents, my love for all foods made from potatoes, and the lack of required cleaning, but no.

For one, something about the arrival of Spring in upstate New York, with the weather getting warmer and flowers blooming, that represented a new beginning. Despite Rosh Hashanah and the new school year starting in September, Pesach was the holiday for new beginnings in my mind.

Beyond this, I also enjoyed seeing cousins and other family members for the Seder whom we only saw a few times per year.

In Israel, my home since 1996, the weather changes leading up to Pesach are less pronounced, save for the occasional heat wave. And the flowers that first bloomed because of the winter rains are mostly gone by April. So it feels less like a new beginning than it did in New York.

With the Pesach narrative about the Israelites leaving Egypt for Israel, the focus this Pesach will be on the hostages still in Gaza if they haven’t been returned home, those displaced around Gaza and in the North, and the IDF soldiers who continue to make sacrifices for the safety of the rest of Israel.

So how can we celebrate Pesach in such a time, as we tell the story of going M’Avdut L’Herut, from slavery to freedom, when too many are enslaved this year?

We can’t. 

That said, will anyone be freed from Gaza if we don’t read the Haggadah and participate in a Seder?

We don’t need to celebrate, but we need to participate in the Seder and remember.

We don’t need to go back that far in history to find other examples when there wasn’t much to celebrate during Pesach, and yet we as a community continued to host makeshift Seders and remember Pesach, even when there was no matzah, wine, or a seder plate.

In times like this, we need to find a community. Maybe the community is our family. It could also be colleagues at work. Perhaps it’s a group that shares Wordle scores, friends from university, or people who attended Ulpan together.

And those of us who are lucky will be part of multiple communities.

Fifteen years ago, when my eldest son was 10, I looked for a community to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. I had attended Hebrew day school in Poughkeepsie and wanted my son to have a religious Jewish experience that didn’t begin a few months before his Bar Mitzvah so we joined Havurat Tel Aviv. Though I wasn’t mindful of this, I was probably looking for a community that reminded me of the one I grew up in.

In subsequent years, I started reading Torah at the Havurah, which became more challenging when the congregation started reading the entire Parashah (instead of the third when we used to observe the triennial Torah-reading cycle). Now, I read from the Torah every 3-4 weeks. I’m not a great reader, and I’m sure I have to practice much more than most others, but by reading from the Torah, I’m contributing to this community.

So, in this challenging period, it’s a good time to make a new beginning by joining a community. And if you’re open and honest in your intentions to give and take, then most communities would be happy to welcome you.

About the Author
Having grown up in a Conservative community and attended Hebrew day school in Poughkeepsie, NY, I’ll write about finding Yiddishkeit in modern-day Israel.
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