Shep Englander — Federation Journal
How the Passover Seder Can Illuminate our Lives
I grew up believing that Yom Kippur is the holiday observed by the most American Jews. But research shows that it’s actually the Passover Seder. Tens of thousands of Jews, who do little else that’s Jewish, celebrate a Passover Seder every year. I’ve wondered why. One reason is that a Passover Seder is something all Jews have in common and yet each one is unique, interweaving thousands of years of Jewish tradition with the quirky traditions of our particular family. We cherish memories of family and food that make that night different.
And as we dip our bitter herb, the Passover story makes us ask big questions about freedom and responsibility, like—When should we fight for freedom? When and how should we question our leaders? These big and ancient questions can remind us that we don’t fight for freedom for ourselves alone but to instill justice for all. Now, during these divisive times, the Passover story can even help us find common values behind conflicting politics.
Last year, I agreed to serve on the Board of the Jewish Agency for Israel (Israel’s largest non-profit in Israel). I was especially honored to serve because Natan Sharansky was its Chairman. Natan is famous for the way he led the fight to free Soviet Jews in the 80s and 90s. Refusing to compromise, he chose to fight for nine years from Soviet prisons using as his weapons hunger strikes and the support of Jews united worldwide. The outcome was freedom for nearly 2 million Jews, including hundreds of families who were resettled here in Cincinnati through a partnership between the Federation, the JCC, and Jewish Family Service. This was one of the greatest modern achievements of the Jewish people. So this year, I’m thinking about how the Passover story parallels winning freedom for Soviet Jews.
Since 2009, as Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan has taken on a new fight—for Israel to fulfill its promise to be a State that is welcoming to all Jews—and therefore to fully recognize the many ways in which Jews in Israel and the Diaspora understand and observe their Judaism. This week, in announcing his retirement, Natan referenced the Talmudic teaching—that the work of creating a better world cannot be completed by any one of us, and yet we are each commanded to persist in trying. This is true of the struggle for the Israeli government to fully respect the diversity of Jewish practices. Our community understands that we may not be able to complete this work, yet we must persist.
And while we press for change in Israel, we hold nothing back from our award-winning efforts to connect Cincinnatians with Israelis, so that we will remain one people. We connect through our partnership with the city of Netanya, initiatives like “Israel at 70” that rely on the expertise of our Israel Emissary (shlicha), or our Foundation-funded best-in-class teen Israel trips.
Locally, with your help, we have rallied around our Cincinnati 2020 vision of an engaged, inclusive, collaborative community. Thank you for your commitment, your generosity, and your work to strengthen our community and our people. I wish you and your family a loving, and meaningful Passover.
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
Stay connected: sign up for our newsletter here.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: We look at the whole picture, taking into account the diverse needs of the entire community. Together we can do almost anything.