Passover is nothing if not formulaic. We follow a rigorously enforced order of tasks, eat specific foods, and chant songs that have been handed down to us for centuries. Luckily, there’s wine, and kids (usually), so we can generally avoid being totally serious and somber.

As you probably learned once, it’s a holiday with a lot of fours—four children, four cups of wine, four questions, four names of the holiday, and a few other odd quartets. But it’s also a holiday of threes—three matzot on the table and, germane to this discussion, Rabban Gamliel’s “three things.” 

According to the Haggadah, “Rabban Gamliel was accustomed to say, ‘Whoever does not discuss the following three things on Passover has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are them: the Pesach sacrifice, matzah and maror.’” You can wrap a lot of the highlights of the holiday around those three things, so perhaps 2,000 years ago when Gamliel put his pen to parchment he was trying to shorten an interminably long rabbinic symposium. Maybe, maybe not.

Well, 2,000 years later, I’ve got an update: This is going to be a tough Passover. The tight and convenient storyline tracing our path from slavery to freedom must also now make room for the events of Oct. 7 and subsequent horrors from the ongoing conflict. The trauma is ever-present and never-ending.

I have struggled, and generally failed, to successfully engage my kids in ongoing conversation about the war. It’s too hard, and too emotional, and like most difficult topics, it’s easier to say nothing at all. Nevertheless, I will hold myself accountable and say that if I do not articulate the following three things this Passover, I have not fulfilled my obligation.

No. 1: A cease-fire without the return of all hostages is a non-starter.

This is for the celebrities in the back and all of their performative empathy. Actually, no, it’s for a few billion other people who have conveniently forgotten about the captives—253 hostages were taken on Oct. 7, 112 have been returned, and the Israeli government estimates that 97 living hostages remain. Any and all talk of a permanent cease-fire that does not begin with the return of all hostages and the bodies of the dead is no discussion at all. 

As Maimonides wrote, “There is no act of charity more meritorious than ransoming captives.” Israel has paid a steep price already for the return of the hostages thus far, and talks in Qatar continue for the return of the rest. They must be brought home.

No. 2: There can be no return to the status quo.

There cannot be a pathway to a return to the facts on the ground from Oct. 6. While the Hamas apologists continue to paper over the murder, brutality, terror, sexual violence, and barbarism of Oct. 7, the fact remains that Hamas must not be allowed to remain in control in Gaza; should that happen, we have failed. With that being said, as the conflict extends into its seventh month, and Hamas still exercises ironclad authority in Gaza, I am less confident than ever about this outcome. With the battle for Rafah seemingly imminent, the future looks bleak no matter how we slice it. 

No. 3: This is the same old story.

This is obvious, but it’s worth repeating: The world never gets tired of trying to get rid of us. Since the dawn of our history we have faced existential and generational challenges for survival and this is just the latest example. And while the trauma from October is also the most painful, this needs to be articulated clearly; our persecution is eternal, but then again, so is our survival. Am Yisrael Chai.

If all goes well, I’ll be able to share these three sentiments with the gathered throngs at our seders, and then launch into the usual celebrations, psalms, songs, and assorted shenanigans that Passover is famous for. After all, as Jews, good times must necessarily follow the mournful commemorations of our past tragedies, no matter how recent.

Not to be overlooked, though, at the conclusion of the seders I will also take great pride in exclaiming, “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim” (next year in Jerusalem), to finish the evening. While one of my go-to expressions is, “It is always time to go to Israel,” we are on the docket for a trip in 2025 to celebrate the bat mitzvah of our fourth child. And, make no mistake, we will be there to celebrate that milestone as planned…no matter what.

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