From Israel: What’s on My Mind This Passover

Yael Eckstein  |  April 22, 2024

Israeli soldiers seen during a pre-Passover event for the return of Kibbutz Nir Oz hostages at the Kibbutz dining hall, near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, April 11, 2024. Photo by Liron Moldovan/Flash90
Israeli troops at a Passover event for the return of Kibbutz Nir Oz hostages on April 11, 2024. (Photo: Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

Writing at Higher Ground, Yael says this Passover is a time of grief and suffering… but also hope:

The nights of Passover are different from all other nights, and this year even more so. Your Jewish neighbors will soon gather to recall their ancestors’ liberation from ancient Egypt and the start of their long journey to Israel, but as your neighbors celebrate this year, they will also grieve.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Passover and its many contradictions.

This sacred and widely observed holiday commemorates the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. To celebrate, Jews gather at the dinner table for a seder, a ceremonial meal packed with rituals, stories and prayers. “Seder” is a Hebrew word meaning “order,” and Jews have conducted the Passover holiday in the same order for about 1,500 years.

Throughout the seder, we experience contradictions that reflect the central question of the holiday: Why is this night different from all other nights?

We eat bitter herbs and salt water to remember the tears of the Hebrew slaves and later we sing songs of gratitude, praising God for their liberation. We move through a precisely ordered meal and follow a detailed script of blessings, all while we lounge in our pillowed seats. As we tell stories of our ancestors – suffering, outcast and enslaved in Egypt – we leave the door open to welcome Elijah the Prophet as well as strangers to our Passover festivities.

This year, thousands of Jewish families will leave an empty chair for Elijah and notice the empty chairs that their loved ones used to fill. As hostages remain in Gaza and heroes remain on the front lines protecting Israel, this Passover will be different from all other nights in the traditional ways and more.

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