Almost 30 years ago, my husband and I moved from New York to San Diego for a quick two-year post-doc. Clearly, our plans changed, and we have made a rich, rewarding life for our family here in San Diego. Through our synagogue, chavurah, the JCC, San Diego Jewish Academy and so many other Jewish institutions, we are blessed with an amazing “West Coast” Jewish family with whom we celebrate all the Jewish holidays. Except one. Every year around January, my parents call me. “Have you thought about your plans for Pesach yet?” And over thirty years, with three children, and our crazy schedules, we have made the trek to New Jersey almost every year to celebrate Passover with family. Now, after two years without gathering as a family except for “Zeders”–our zoom seders–we are headed back on the red-eye to be together once again.
The seders of my childhood, at my grandparents’ home in Brooklyn, and then my own home, were loud, often a little silly, and musical. As my cousins and I got older, things got a little more serious, a little more reflective, and if anything, more musical (at one point we had viola, violin, multiple guitars, harmonica, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, percussion and harmonica. Not to mention lots and lots of singing). Once we all started having kids, things got chaotic again, and now the cycle has shifted once more. Our seders have evolved with us, and each year we add songs and readings and activities that speak powerfully to the current moment. Passover is a holiday that lends itself to connections, to modern experience, to easily understood relevance. It is a holiday that speaks to peoplehood; to the resilience and spirit (and chaos) and connectedness of the Jewish people.
In today’s world, it is not hard to find all-too-clear connections to the Passover story. The people and the Jews of Ukraine are living in desperate conditions, and millions have left their homes seeking refuge and safety. Thousands of Jews in Ethiopia are also in an incredibly dangerous situation and hope soon to make their own journey to Israel. As Jews, we are stepping up, doing what we can to help Jews and others facing harm around the world. I am lucky enough and privileged enough to have spent many seders thinking about what I could and should do to help the oppressed, rather than seeing myself in their shoes.
But this year, the Passover story feels especially relevant as antisemitism rises at home and abroad. I am reminded how easy it is to become “the other,” to be vilified, stereotyped, and threatened. As Abigail Pogrebin wrote in a thoughtful essay for The Atlantic, “I’m struggling this year to reconcile the lessons I’ve taken from the holiday: to help the world, but also to remember how often the world has turned on us. Maybe the seder needs to be a call not only for empathy but also for vigilance.”
Here at Federation, we agree. That balance of empathy and vigilance drives our work. With your support, we care for Jews in need, including the Jews of Ukraine and thousands of Jews living in or near poverty here in San Diego. At the same time, we, along with our national partners at Jewish Federations of North America, are significantly increasing our investment in community security. In partnership with the ADL, we created a Jewish Community Security Institute to bring security best practices to San Diego’s Jewish institutions and to make space for interagency conversations about what we are experiencing locally. Federation also partnered with the Jewish Community Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation to provide grantwriting support to help garner significant security dollars for San Diego’s Jewish institutions.
How do we balance empathy and vigilance? How do we become more inclusive and welcoming while also prioritizing security? I will bring these questions to my seder. We are missing a few instruments as the next generation heads off into the world and their own seders, but we will raise our voices together in song with joy, and once again, we will find ourselves and our modern lives and questions in the Passover story, reflected in our tradition. I hope you do the same.
On behalf of everyone at Federation, we wish you a sweet and meaningful Pesach,
P.S. And keep in mind if you register for our CommUNITY Trip, when you conclude your celebration with “Next Year in Jerusalem,” you will really mean it! Click here for more information.
P.P.S. Donate here to enhance security at local Jewish institutions and have your gift matched through JFNA’s LiveSecure Initiative!