As We Gather to Celebrate Passover

18 April 2019
By: Shani Abramowitz

This Friday evening, Jewish families around the world will gather to celebrate Passover. We will sit together, eat together, laugh and maybe cry together. But most importantly, we will remember and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, that essential origin story of our collective transition from oppression to liberation and freedom.

Passover is the holiday on which we are commanded to remember, retell, and ask about the story that is so central to our formation as a people, a community. The story of Passover, of the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery and oppression to ultimate freedom and liberation, is our origin story. It is on Pesach, in telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, that we become fundamentally connected to one another, we become a community.

Joan Didion, an american writer and essayist, is known for saying that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. At first, this quote might sound dramatic, perhaps even irresponsible, but I want to suggest that not only is Didion absolutely right, this mantra is so fundamental to who we are as Jews, and Passover is the essential moment in which this phrase plays out.

As we make our way through four glasses of wine (or grape juice), something profound happens. Not only do we tell and retell the story of our past, but we begin to imagine and craft the story of our future. In thinking about Passover’s greatest charge, to tell over the story of the Exodus for the next generation, we are given an incredible opportunity to think about who we are, and where we are headed.

More and more, it feels as though the world I imagine and hope for is nothing more than a product of hopeless, naive optimism. Right now, we are sitting in an increasingly difficult moment in history. We are watching the rapid erosion of Israeli democracy, corruption, hubris, and recklessness are becoming common qualities of those in power, and it feels as though peace is just out of reach.

And yet, in these moments of difficulty, we must uncover that small spark of hope that is embedded deep within the Passover story. We must remember that what comes next depends on the choices that we make. How will we continue to support democracy in Israel, how will we ensure that the dignity and safety of both Israelis and Palestinians is valued and taken seriously, how will we continue to build sacred relationships?

This Passover, as you sit around the table with family and friends, recounting the story of the Exodus, hold onto that tiny morsel of hope, and remember, that while the work is hard and the road is long, it is up to us to write the next chapter. Let’s make sure it is one we can be proud of.

Shani Abramowitz

Shani is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), expected to graduate in 2021, and the 2018-2019 Froman Fellow at the New Israel Fund in New York. Before entering rabbinical school, Shani was a year-long fellow at Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side of New York. Shani was born and raised in Chicago, and attended Brandeis University, where she studied English Literature, psychology, and history. Shani has worked previously with J Street as a regional and Rabbinical school organizer and with T’ruah as an Israel Fellow.