The Importance of Passover: Reflections from across the Jewish World

Passover is a time to celebrate Jewish freedom and resilience. In this spirit, we bring you these Passover reflections from around the JDC world.

By The JDC Community | March 26, 2021

Passover is a time to celebrate Jewish freedom and resilience. In this spirit, we bring you these Passover reflections, highlighting Jewish community members from all across the world, as well as their thoughts on what Passover means to them.

Europe

Niki Novák

Age: 23

Profession: Teacher at Lauder School, Program Organizer at JCC Budapest – Bálint Ház and Unit Head in Camp Szarvas

Niki Novák

What does Passover teach us?

Passover teaches us many things, from leadership and decision-making to the importance of freedom and how to start over. The story is itself an educational masterpiece. Passover customs and traditions play a definitive part in Jewish culture: The spring cleaning, the peculiar food we’re obliged to eat, and the seders all teach us to not just to look at the story as part of our history, but to act as if we were there, to remember what happened. Passover lets us pause our lives and think differently for a moment. It lets us connect with our ancestors, and the people in our lives. It urges us to be together, to be a community, maybe even a nation, but it makes this demand in a way that feels inclusive. Passover shows us the power that lies in community; I feel this power to a great extent. 

Do you have a favorite Passover memory?

It urges us to be together, to be a community, maybe even a nation, but it makes this demand in a way that feels inclusive.

I have been an active member of the Jewish community since a very young age; camps and youth movements have played a huge role in my life. I’d always known that one day I’d be a madricha (counselor) and work with kids. Of course, I didn’t know that I would do this in many different capacities and that it would basically become the most important thing to me. Madrich training has made such a large impact on my life, which is probably why my favorite Passover memory belongs to that period of time.

In the youth movement I grew up in, it’s a tradition for madrichim to have a Passover seder together. All the food is made by the participants and we split up into groups. I was assigned to the “meat” group and we were preparing some chicken for the others. Even though I’m not a fan of dealing with raw meat, it was such a fun experience to learn how to cook for 20 people and to see a different side of the madrichim than I normally saw each week. After we had prepared the chicken, we drove to one of the madricha’s house and had our seder there. The whole night was such an incredible experience, and I could feel the power of our little community. I still remember that seder as if it happened yesterday.

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

Passover shows us what faith looks like. Faith in our people, faith in Moses, faith in God, and, of course, faith in the idea that things can and will get better. However, the story also shows us that it’s not easy. It’s not easy to believe in a future we cannot see, and it’s not easy to get to a better place, a better situation. It takes time, effort, guidance, and a new mindset.

It’s not going to be easy to start over, just like it wasn’t easy for the Jews who were freed from slavery: Freedom isn’t easy.

Right now we’re a bit like the Jews in Egypt. In lockdown, we aren’t able to do what we’d like to do, and many people are tied to their work, to their screens. The feeling of being trapped is very real, and we fear what will follow. Our lives, even if we do not necessarily like them, have adapted to this new reality. It’s not going to be easy to start over, just like it wasn’t easy for the Jews who were freed from slavery: Freedom isn’t easy.

We will have to learn how to deal with the trauma that the pandemic has caused us. We will have to rethink how our societies look, our economies, and what kind of rules to change. We will only be able to do this if we let go of the past a little. This resonates a lot with what the Jews had to face when they wandered in the desert.

But in the end, things will turn out well. We just need a little bit of faith until then.

Adam Szerényi

Age: 34

Profession: Finance

Adam Szerenyi (right) with his child

What does Passover teach us?

Pesach is all about freedom. These days, we cannot live freely. Normally, when we lack freedom, we need to fight for it, just like how the Jews fought the Egyptians. But to achieve freedom today, we need to stop the pandemic. That means we have to respect laws and health regulations. In other words, be “unfree.” The meaning of freedom changes for each generation, but each generation needs freedom, whatever its meaning. Without it, we are like humans without a heart.

Do you have a favorite Passover memory?

I was always the youngest kid at the table, and so I was required to sing “Ma Nishtana,” even though I couldn’t sing. From this year on, finally, my son will take over this tradition.

Asia

Captain Victor & Elizabeth Elijah

Captain Victor’s Age: 75

Elizabeth Elijah’s Age: 68

Profession: Managers of Sigma Shipping Agency

Captain Victor Elijah (left) with his wife, Elizabeth Elijah (center) singing at Khai Fest in 2019

What does Passover teach us?

Every year we read the Passover story. And though we know it well, we learn something new every year. 

Passover teaches us that freedom comes with a price. Freedom brings hardship, but we should face it bravely and go ahead in life. This lesson inspires us, year after year, to face obstacles which come in our life. 

What’s your favorite Passover memory?

Freedom brings hardship, but we should face it bravely and go ahead in life.

As small children, we used to go to our grandparents’ house for Passover dinner. Only one thing attracted me and that was finding the afikoman. There were many of us children and we were competitive. Of course, our dear grandparents always used to reward not only the one who found the afikoman, but all of us. I still remember the excitement and anticipation leading up to that particular evening. 

Just as we left behind all the plagues years ago, in the same way, we hope to leave behind the COVID-19 pandemic and move ahead to a healthy and happy future

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

For nearly a year, we have not met any community members in person. We have been attending most of the programs online. Passover gives us an opportunity not only to participate in the event itself, but to see our friends and relatives in the community. It gives a sense of satisfaction, as if we’ve actually met them. 

Passover is also a reminder of the hardships that our forefathers faced, and a reminder that freedom cannot be achieved easily. Comparing it to our altered lifestyle during the pandemic, it takes us back to the days of our forefathers. 

Just as we left behind all the plagues years ago, in the same way, we hope to leave behind the COVID-19 pandemic and move ahead to a healthy and happy future, not only for us but for our children, grandchildren, and all our loved ones. 

Natalie Dayan Birwadkar

Age: 23 

Profession: Student, biomedical engineering 

Natalie Dayan Birwadkar

What does Passover teach us?

Passover marks a time when we can collectively pause and reflect on our spiritual journey and what we’re willing to let go of. It’s a story about slavery, our ego, money, junk food, people’s opinions about us to becoming liberated. I think we should all try and experience Passover internally this year; we should focus on our own healing and not be sorry for being emotionally unavailable to others for a few days. By focusing on your pain first, you will become a better person and help others get better, too.

What’s your favorite Passover memory?

Celebrating Passover during lockdown is something that I cherish. I know a lot of people went through some really challenging times during Passover last year, but what stands out to me is that, no matter what, we learn to adapt to new situations. Rituals were revised, Seder prayers were conducted over Zoom, families became closer. So much happened in just a matter of days, something none of us could have even imagined.

no matter what happens, we will emerge stronger than we were, and if we want to win the battle against COVID-19, we have to do it in unison.

My parents, being the early planners that they are, managed to organise everything prior to the lockdown, which was why we had no issues conducting the Seder. I was very grateful for this but what stood out to me was that, for the first time, I wasn’t looking forward to anything; I was in the present, feeling nothing but gratitude for everything I had, because I realised how all those little things that we had taken for granted, like human relationships, were something that we had been craving all along. 

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

I think it serves as a reminder that no matter what happens, we will emerge stronger than we were, and if we want to win the battle against COVID-19, we have to do it in unison.

Rebecca Dandekar

Age: 19 

Profession: Medical student and president of Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP)

Rebecca Dandekar

What does Passover teach us?

Passover teaches us about faith; we need to have faith in God, despite being in a difficult situation. Passover also teaches us to embrace and realize the true value of freedom.

Passover is also a time to reflect on the ancestral story of slavery and keep reminding oneself about how good things take time, and patience is a virtue. 

It instills in us a great sense of faith and mental peace and the conviction that, like the plagues, this too shall pass

What’s your favorite Passover memory?

As a child, I always loved it when my mom hid bread pieces around the house, while my brother and I were supposed to find them before Passover began.

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

The pandemic is a great time to understand and interpret the Passover story. It instills in us a great sense of faith and mental peace and the conviction that, like the plagues, this too shall pass, with minimum or no harm to us. Things might become worse, but will eventually improve. 

Latin America

Yael Fleichman, Paraguay

Profession: General Director, Jewish Day School Estado de Israel

Yael Fleichman (head of table) during a virtual Passover seder

What does Passover teach us?

Passover is about family, and also the greater community, which is a kind of extended family. Passover is also about home. There, we savor the flavors, smells, melodies, readings, and festive atmosphere of Passover. 

At the Colegio Estado de Israel here in Asunción, where I teach, we celebrate Passover with traditional celebrations and reflection. 

The chag (festival) is about the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation. As the Haggadah states, Vehigadeta lebbincha…(“And you shall tell your children…”), with the understanding that our children are also our students, our youth.

What’s your favorite Passover memory?

I have many! One of them consists of the Passover sedarim that we organize with the community at the Patronato de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba. So many people gather there to celebrate their  freedom. They bring so much passion and enthusiasm to this celebration.

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

COVID-19 has given Passover a very special meaning. After so many years of celebrating Passover away from my parents and siblings, Zoom has allowed me to sit at their table. Last Passover, we were able to have a virtual seder with our family from Argentina and the United States.

Evelyn Furhman, Venezuela

Age: 69

Former Profession: Director of Golden Age Elderly Program at Hebraica JCC, Caracas

What does Passover teach us?

Passover teaches us the value of spiritual freedom. More than 3000 years ago, we rebelled and instituted a feast for the soul, the sedarim of Passover, where we thanked Hashem for liberating us from Egypt.

In every generation, it is a mitzvah to imagine ourselves as slaves, appreciating the miraculous presence of Moses and Hashem. 

Evelyn Fuhrman (standing) leading a Passover seder

What does Passover mean to you?

It is our connection with the Creator, which we had in the past and maintain today, close to the 14th of Nisan. We relive this time as a liberating energy that empowers us, just as our parents and grandparents taught us, and just as we are sharing it now with our children, grandchildren, and the groups we assist in our community work.

We have to conquer freedom again in every generation!

This energy teaches us to set aside limitations, chaos, and fear, and assume the strength and desire to give as a collective, respecting each other’s dignity and taking responsibility for each other, standing before tyrannies and despots, and discarding our own vices: materialism, intolerance, selfishness, or paradigms that limit our evolution and transcendence.

What’s your favorite Passover memory?

I have pleasant memories of extended family at the Passover table: seven uncles, 20 cousins, my parents, sister, and grandfather. Moses, my maternal grandfather, would sing “Bibilu yasanu mimizrahim” and pass the keara (seder plate) over our heads to protect and bless us all year long.

For half a century, I did not experience this tradition, until a Sephardic Rabbi practiced it two years ago with the elderly ladies in the Golden Age Passover Seder, where I used to work. This ceremony evoked my ancestors and the pandemic that we are the same people!

Why does Passover matter now, during the pandemic?

During COVID-19, humanity intensified its chaos and crisis. In 2020, the plagues of Egypt returned, filling the streets of various places with blood, hail, ulcers, lice, invasion of frogs, locusts or wild beasts, deadly plague, and/or darkness (Sahara storm).

What message was Hashem sending us? Humanity embraced tuma (impurity). Our exodus was due to idolatry, intolerance, loss of morals, abuse to the ecosystem, hatred, and injustices.

In the desert of quarantine, we must reconnect with our families and value what’s important. We must be sensitive and supportive. Again and again, we must return to kedusha (holiness), elevate our faith, and embrace the Ten Commandments that Hashem passed down to us. 

Today, COVID-19 obliges us to heal ourselves or die, to leave Egypt, to purify our bodies and spirits, to get vaccinated, embrace tikkun olam (repair), and give genuine love, without asking for anything in return. 

Kol Israel arevim tze la tze. We are all responsible for each other. It is time to assume it!

Ilan López, Guatemala

Age: 31

Profession: Executive Director of Jewish Community of Guatemala

Ilan López leading the Jewish community of Guatemala

Which Passover story resonates with you?

The story of Nachshon ben Amminadav, the first man who dared to enter the Red Sea, takes on greater importance this Passover. Seven days after leaving Egypt, after having witnessed Hashem’s greatness, the people of Israel faced the sea, surrounded by their enemies, when Hashem gave this order: “Keep walking forward.” Fear gripped the people and only one man, Nachshon, had the courage to walk. 

Many times, we have all the pieces we need, and yet fear, uncertainty, and insecurity paralyze us. We wait for the miracle to happen without understanding that Hashem is waiting for us to take the first step. Getting out of this pandemic will require that, like Nachshon, we take the first step, with the certainty that our path will be filled with miracles that will make us stronger than ever.

Africa

Marcelle Edery

Age: 75 

Profession: Social Worker (retired)

Marcelle Edery

What does Passover mean to you?

My first thought is the exodus out of Egypt. So, to me, Passover means freedom, freedom to enjoy our cultural rituals, gather as family, and enjoy life.  

Do you have a favorite Passover memory?

Mimouna marks the end of Pesach, and it’s when our Muslim neighbors visit Jewish homes. On this day, Muslims sell flowers in the street, and the Jewish community opens its doors to them. 

It gives us hope, during our isolation, that we will once again meet with the people we love.

Why does Passover matter this year, during the pandemic?

Passover brings us joy and the memory of family. It gives us hope, during our isolation, that we will once again meet with the people we love.

Juliette Halioua

Age: 80

Juliette Halioua

What does Passover mean to you?

Passover means the freedom of the Jews from Egypt. It means renewal, home cleaning and painting, new dishes, a new atmosphere, and my children come back in Morocco. 

Can you describe a favorite memory that you have?

After Pesach, we celebrate Mimouna, a Moroccan ritual that closes the holiday. In each Jewish home, we set the table with lots of food, pastries, and bread. Every house has its own tradition. Some put raw fish on the table. Others put flour. And some even put raw beans.

All Jewish homes are thrown open, and every house lit up. Mimouna lasts all night, and when you walk down the street, you can tell which houses are Jewish: They’re illuminated. 

It gives us hope that Jewish tradition will last into the future. It gives us hope that, once again, we will take our seat at the family table

Mimouna is when the Jewish community receives its Muslim neighbors without invitation.

Why does Passover matter this year, during the pandemic?

Passover matters because it gives us hope. It gives us hope that Jewish tradition will last into the future. It gives us hope that, once again, we will take our seat at the family table. 

Sign up for JDC Voice Stories

Loading...

Share