Passover is usually one of my favorite holidays. I love the ritual of preparing the house, the smell of the food, and the joyous atmosphere at the seder table. But this year is different. Passover began only three days after the one-year anniversary of my father’s suicide.
Imagine you are running for your life. Your survival depends on the mercy of strangers. Your home is in ruins and your neighbors have fled. There is no turning back. When you reach the crowded camp, you join thousands who ache for a life they will never know again.
When I learned that I would be spending my spring break in McAllen, Texas, with Temple Sinai, volunteering with migrants fleeing from violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, I didn’t know what to think.
For more than 3,000 years, Jews have gathered to retell the story of Passover and celebrate our deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In the Book of Exodus, we are not only told to observe Passover (Exodus 12: 17); we also are taught that, “In every generation all of us are obliged to regard ourselves as if we ourselves went forth from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). We must not only gather for seder and replace chametz with matzah, but we also must take ownership of the Passover narrative and experience it anew each year.
The Land of Israel is a ghost throughout the haggadah, even as it is a constant presence in the background of the Passover story. Liberation isn’t solely freedom from Egyptian bondage; it’s also intentional direction toward Sinai and the ultimate arrival in the Promised Land. Yet Eretz Yisrael itself is rarely mentioned in the haggadah text.
On Passover, we confront a central, inextricable tension: we must simultaneously hold the joy of our exodus from slavery in Egypt with the persecution we see all around us in the world. For many centuries, that persecution was directly experienced by Jews themselves.