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Passover Reflections

04/14/2020 08:32:06 AM


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

October 2018. It was the day of Aiden Nelson’s bar mitzvah. Word filtered into shul about the shooting and numerous casualties at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh.

We had all sort of been in heightened state of alert especially over the past 14 months, since the white supremacist rally happened in Charlottesville. But nothing like this had ever happened before. Not in the entire history of the United States of America.

I never particularly look forward to singing והיא שעמדה ( “V’hee she’amda”) at the Seder. I know of course that there has been no shortage of persecution aimed in our direction. The text is not inaccurate per se. It just seems to perpetuate this mentality of victimhood. How would we ever rise to join with good people of all faiths and nationalities and ethnic groups if every Pesach we reinforced our victim mentality?

But maybe it’s not just a mentality. Maybe it’s just plain reality.

And at the same time, the outpouring of support from the people of Pittsburgh, the sports teams of Pittsburgh, and faith leaders from here and from all over swung me back at the time. We are part of the good and compassionate humanitarian majority. We were victimized alright. But we are not victims. And as not victims, we need to embrace our role in the great , pluralistic American society and world.

March 2019. Along with leaders from many many faiths, I stood up at the front of that familiar big room of the Islamic center days after the horrific attack on the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. A terrible day, but an inspiring gathering. The more we can stop seeing ourselves history’s great victims (even if we kind of are), the more we will be moved and inclined to stand with other.

One month later, the last day of Pesach: the shooting at the Chabad in Poway.

Six months later: the shooting in Jersey City, followed immediately by the stabbing rampage in Monsey over Chanukah. All amidst evidence of anti-Semitism rising in Europe. And in the Labour Party in England.

Maybe I’m just closing my eyes. Maybe “v’hee she’amdah” is just plain right, and I am betraying all of the innocent Jewish who have been mistreated, expelled and murdered over the generations.

But I cannot forget the words of Rabbi Goldstein of Chabad of Poway. In particular, two paragraphs from his essay that appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

The first:

I don’t remember all that I said to my community, but I do remember quoting a passage from the Passover Seder liturgy: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” And I remember shouting the words “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!” I have said that line hundreds of times in my life. But I have never felt the truth of it more than I did then.

And the second:

I am a proud emissary of Chabad-Lubavitch, a movement of Hasidic Judaism. Our leader, the great Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, famously taught that a little light expels a lot of darkness. That is why Chabad rabbis travel all over the world to set up Jewish communities: I have colleagues in Kathmandu, in Ghana, as well as in Paris and Sydney. We believe that helping any human being tap into their divine spark is a step toward fixing this broken world and bringing closer the redemption of humanity. It is why 33 years ago my wife and I came to this corner of California to build a house of light.

So I guess it’s all about balance. Acknowledging the truth of our history. But never letting it stand in the way of the history we want to make.


P.S. Literally as I was writing this reflection a few hours before the First Seder, I received this email from our long-time friend and interlocutor from the Islamic Center, Tasneem Noor.

Shalom Rabbi Yosef, Robert, and Carina,

Sending you, your families and your whole community LOTS of loving wishes for Passover. I realize this year will be unlike any other and likely to be bitter sweet as you won’t be able to practice the same way. But knowing how intentional and resourceful you are as individuals and as a community, I am sending extra prayers for this Passover to be extra special in surprising and meaningful ways. May your hearts and spirits be lifted. May you feel loved and connected. May you feel liberated and stronger in your faith and resolve. May you discover insightful blessings and gifts in your teachings, traditions, and rituals. Ameen.

I'll be thinking of you all and continue to keep you in my prayers. Take care. Stay awesome. And HAPPY PASSOVER  ​​​

Sat, September 23 2023 8 Tishrei 5784