Passover is my favorite holiday—family, freedom, good food—what’s not to like? I have always especially liked the idea of inviting those who didn’t have anywhere to go. The seder starts with welcoming people into your home and ends with wishing—to be in Jerusalem next year. The figurative, if not actual homeland—safety, history, peace—again, what’s not to like?
This year, it all feels upside-down or backwards. I need to do things in the opposite order. You see, we’ve just been to Jerusalem and we have a lot of welcoming work to do here.
We took our family to Israel over February vacation week and had—I have to be corny—the trip of a lifetime. So “Next year in Jerusalem” doesn’t work. I hope we go back but it won’t be in the next year. The trip will be very much on our minds at the seder next week.
It was more than a fun vacation and a meaningful tour, thanks to our temple, Temple Emunah in Lexington, wonderful tour guides and amazing friends, and it was also a victory that I wouldn’t have thought possible. The youngest of my three children has special needs, and anything out of our daily routine can be a huge struggle. Travel like this pretty much checks all the boxes of things we didn’t think we could do, ever, as a family. Next time you are waiting in a crowd or a line at the airport, google “Fragile X Syndrome” if you want a laugh. To say it was hard for him doesn’t begin to describe it.
Not only did we tour this amazing country and see history, religion and culture that we had only read about, but we did it with other families from our community. Even more meaningful, several families had children of bar and bat mitzvah age, so we were able to celebrate them together in Israel and together here, back in the Boston area. My oldest son had his own bar mitzvah just a few weeks after our return. We are determined to not see that celebration as the end of his religious studying, but as a beginning of his Jewish and moral life. For his mitzvah project, as he prepared for his day, he collected soccer equipment to send to children in Haiti. Soccer is something that he truly enjoys, as a player, as a spectator and, as of next week, a referee for younger children. And as I gave him his parental blessing on the bimah, I hoped that he will continue to find ways to make the world a better place, in his own way.
Like so many things in life, it’s hard to separate what you really can’t do from what you are afraid to do. Do I shelter my family because we aren’t able to do things like others, or do I stand in the way of them experiencing life fully? Being vulnerable, outside your comfort zone, scared—I think at times on the trip, we had just a little in common with the Israelites as they left their homes in the Passover story. And then you turn to the current state of the world around us. Pharaoh and our current leaders might have more than a little in common.
Our country, our world, everywhere is so scary, with terrible things happening to innocent people. And while I don’t begin to understand how complicated things are in Israel, it is our literal and figurative homeland. And it is a safe haven for Jews from all over the world—something that feels like more than a luxury when you see so much anti-Semitism.
This gets me back to the start of the seder, which is now my end—welcoming those in need. Refugees needing to leave their homes, people who thought they were home only to find hatred is here, people who don’t have a roof over their head or enough to eat, who can’t afford their medical care or don’t even feel safe going to the bathroom—it feels overwhelming, heartbreaking and so senseless.
It also feels tempting to make myself feel better in the easy ways: Sign a petition, share a story on social media, write a check. If I’m truly going to open my home, and my life, to strangers who need help, I have to figure out how to do more.
After the election this fall, so many of us were feeling hopeless, devastated and alone. People turned those feelings into one of the biggest days of protest in history, when we marched in Washington and all over the world on Jan. 21. I was privileged to be in D.C. with close friends, and it was inspiring in a way I could never have imagined. To be in our nation’s capital with millions of caring people dedicated to making a difference, it wasn’t one day of protest, it was the first day of us all working together. And when I got home from D.C., when I returned from Israel and when I leave the seder next week, I will be reminding myself that it’s just the start of the work we all need to be doing now. Together. And for each other.
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