Not Free Alone: In Chile, One Rabbi Meditates on the Meaning of Passover
For Rabbi Alejandro Bloch, Passover is a time to strengthen Jewish life in Santiago, Chile.
By Rabbi Alejandro Bloch - Community Leader; Santiago, Chile | April 21, 2022
As a graduate of LEATID – a JDC program for Jewish communal leaders in Latin America – as well as a mashgiach ruchani (spiritual supervisor) and Maimonides expert, Rabbi Alenjandro Bloch brings a unique perspective to Jewish community life. Blending real-life experience with scholarly insight, Rabbi Bloch meditates on the meaning of Passover – which, for him, teaches us about community life, mutual aid, and collective joy and celebration.
At its heart, Passover is about solidarity. We cannot be free alone – we must look out for others and ensure their physical and spiritual fulfillment.
The Torah describes the first Passover – the Mitzrayim Passover, in Chapter 12 of Parashat Shemot – and tells us to eat the Korban Pesach (the sacrificial Passover lamb). This passage tells us that if our family is small, we should invite others, and teaches us the importance of sharing and building brotherly and sisterly bonds.
It’s no coincidence, then, that at the beginning of the Maggid – the retelling of the story of Exodus– each family says: “All who are hungry, come eat; all who are needy, come celebrate Passover.”
I remember this saying whenever I recall Passovers from my childhood. At my bubbe’s home during Passover, the living room tables were filled with food, and all the generations mingled together – no one was excluded. Though we didn’t always finish the full Seder, the aromas, the conversation – it was pure yiddishkeit.
At the height of the pandemic, I also recalled that passage from the Maggid. We couldn’t leave our home or welcome others into our homes. Yet the Seder was our chance to recreate memories—individual, family, and collective —since we knew that all around the world, in every Jewish home, our relatives, our brothers, our sisters, were all doing the same, and we were united by our children. Though apart, we were still, in a way, together.
Thankfully, the Jewish community of Santiago, Chile– where I live – was secure enough to maintain that sense of solidarity throughout the pandemic. We have many strong institutions that provide a range of services to the community. There’s Reshet, the Solidaria network, the Ariel Job Center, Bnei Brit, religious congregations, two Jewish schools, WIZO, the JCC EIM (Estadio Israelita Maccabi), and Tnuot Noar – a school for future leaders. The Chilean Jewish Community (CHCH) is the umbrella group of all these organizations and is the public face of the community.
And then, of course, there’s JDC.
JDC takes a holistic approach to community work, helping Jewish life thrive in Santiago. They contribute more than a century of experience, professional expertise, and a global perspective that helps local leaders see themselves as part of a greater Jewish world. JDC helps create that sense of unity we celebrate and cherish on Passover.
One of my first JDC experiences was with LEATID, a JDC program for Jewish communal professionals in Latin America. LEATID was a transformational experience, a pivotal moment.
This was back in the 1990s, when I was a young rabbi in Mendoza, Argentina. I knew I needed more tools to lead my community, and LEATID rounded off my training in a way no other program could have. LEATID connected me to a broader Jewish network, and helped me achieve a global perspective and a richer understanding of what Jewish community could look like.
I took these lessons and applied them as a rabbi in the Santiago community.
Being a rabbi is about so much more than teaching a set of courses. It requires that you cultivate the spiritual lives of our students and accompany them during their years at seminary – equipping them with the tools they’ll need to lead their communities – and that’s exactly what I do as mashgiach ruchani (spiritual supervisor) at the seminary .Above all, it’s about being present for people when they need you.
For that reason, I’ve helped create opportunities for students to gather and create community. And I thank JDC and LEATID for helping me do this valuable work.
Being a rabbi is about so much more than teaching a set of courses – it requires you to cultivate the spiritual lives of your students.
This work is more crucial than ever. The pandemic has been a time of isolation, and now we know that we cannot experience Jewish life alone – on Passover or any other time of year. The pandemic reminded us how essential community is to our development – as Jews and as families.
This year, it’s time to throw ourselves back into community life, and affirm the solidarity we celebrate on Passover.
Rabbi Alejandro Bloch is the leader of the Bnai Israel Community in Santiago, Chile. A rabbi for more than three decades, Rabbi Bloch graduated from the second cohort of JDC’s LEATID program in 1990. Among many other distinctions, Rabbi Bloch is an expert in the Hassidic movement, Maimonides, and contemporary Jewish theology, and founded the Bioethics Center at Juan Agustin Maza University in Mendoza, Argentina.