Uri Feinberg

When our collective memory needs to be as much in the present as in the past

This night will be different than all other nights. Not because of a pillow on our seat or leaning this way or that. It will not be different because we ask questions or identify four children with different traits and characteristics, only to recognize that each one of them can be found in each one of us. This night will be different because of what occurred on October seventh. It happened to us here in Israel and it happened to Jewish People wherever we may be.

When my daughters were younger, in preparation for our seder, I would ask them to write a journal entry, describing what it might have felt like to be a 7, 10 or 14-year-old, going through the exodus from slavery into the unknown towards freedom (14 was as old as I could get them to play along. It was a good run). While standing in the Western Negev, my gaze falling on the dark earth, the sprouts of green bursting through and the sharp colors of the wildflowers towards the end of their bloom, an awareness of our current reality becomes so apparent that not even the not-so-distant booms of artillery can muddle its clarity. It is a reality that has thrust 240 of our brothers and sisters into an abyss that has impeded any one of them from having the luxury to ‘imagine’ what slavery feels like. While those who were released in November have experienced some form of physical freedom, for the 133 who remain hostage, it is this freedom, that elusively continues to adorn the realm of their ‘imagination’ alone, while slavery, sadly, is their reality.

Sitting around our seder tables, as though through the steps of guided meditation, we are directed to imagine ourselves as though we were slaves in Egypt. This is our raison d’etre for even having a seder to begin with. We need to commemorate what we went through, we need to know what our people endured and we have to feel as if we were right there alongside them. All of this in order to truly recognize the power of a strong hand and an outstretched arm leading us through the wilderness. The very creation of the seder and the haggadah itself, were always the embodiment of the reality of the Jewish People at any given time. This was true from the very first seder 2000 years ago in the days when freedom was personified by the Roman triclinium, through the multiple editions and edits of the Kibbutz Be’eri haggadah, printed in their famous (and very quickly re-opened) printing press, and every generation and Jewish community in between.

If this night is indeed different, then how does our seder, our generation, our Jewish community reflect this? How does our reality manifest itself around a table in which we are supposed to imagine what it was all like, when there are those who walk amongst us, who share our story, who are us, for whom no imagination is necessary? Maybe we do not need to read that Rabbi Akiva was told that it had come time to recite the morning Shma. Imagining a tunnel may yet be too painful. Perhaps we should pass on Chad Gadya. The Angel of Death making an appearance as part of a closing ditty, may be too soon. ‘But on this night…matza, bitter herbs’- maybe we need new questions: How did this happen, why did they hurt so many, when will they be home, what am I doing to help? Should we direct our gaze to an open door for Elijah, knowing how many of our extended family have received that dreaded knock on the door, so woefully associated with wartime in Israel? Each will choose what works best for them, no doubt, but the question is demanded of us again and again – what do we need to do in order to see ourselves as though we were….there?

There is nothing new about our seder reflecting our current reality, and as such, it will absolutely also include deep gratitude and eternal reverence to our most visible ‘strong hand and outstretched arm’. The young and not so young Israeli who charged into the fray, left their secure world to protect others, gave of themselves for something greater, risked and even gave their lives for their family, their people and for their home. Along with this ‘greatest generation’ of ours in uniform, it has been the resilience of Israeli society as well, which has helped lift us and in fact, given us the ability to begin to find our footing again.

At our seder this year, if our prayers and our pressure fail, and our hostages are still bound and abused in the caverns and tunnels of Gaza, each of us around our holiday table will have prepared and learned about as many of those being held hostage as they can muster. We will say their names and know what happened to them on that fateful day. We will learn where they are from and who is waiting for them when they return. We no longer need to imagine and journal what it may be like to be a 7 or 10 or 14-year-old who has made their way from slavery to freedom. There are those amongst us for whom this is not ancient history, but bravely, their own personal story.  Painfully we know of too many of our siblings and our parents and our children who continue to be enslaved and who have yet to be redeemed and for those who are no longer alive, have yet to brought to burial in the Land.

Kibbutz Ami’Oz (Meitav Feinberg)
Kibbutz Ami’oz (Meitav Feinberg)
Kibbutz Alumim (Meitav Feinberg)
Moshav Ohad (Yishai Shavit)
Be’eri campsite and Nova Festival site (Uri Feinberg)

The story of our people that we have told for generations, about our trials and tribulations, will indeed be told. This has been a key component of what has held us together during the darkest of times. This night however, will feel different than every other night because the story of the Jewish people will include the stories of each of the 133 who are not with their families. “Who knows 13” should be replaced with “who knows 133”. While this night’s seder will have an empty chair, our meal will also include an embrace from afar for those who will be waiting for their own mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to fill these chairs and feel their embrace. There is no freedom and there is no victory until they are all home.

About the Author
Uri Feinberg has been a Jewish Educator for almost 30 years and a licensed tour guide since 1999. Born in the US, Uri grew up in Jerusalem. He has an MA in Contemporary Jewish Studies, and taught Jewish History for many years. Uri has spent his career working as a tour educator in Israel, has guided Jewish heritage trips in Europe and has lectured widely throughout North America on Jewish History, identity and the State of Israel. Uri and his wife Meryl have three daughters (two who are currently serving in combat units in the IDF), live in the city of Modiin, and are active members of their Reform congregation, YOZMA. Uri’s experience has been driven by a clear desire to share the power of the Land and State of Israel, to strengthen Jewish identity and a connection with the Jewish People.
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