This year, when we gather with family or friends, or as a community, or congregation, it will be different. The world has changed since that dark and horrific Shabbat of Simchat Torah 5784 when the unthinkable became reality. It will be different because as we sit down to our Seders around the world the Jewish State is at war. It will be different because so many Israeli families will look around their seder tables and will see the glaring absence of their loved ones who are gone. It will be different because 134 Israeli families will see an empty chair and know that their loved one is being held somewhere in Gaza not knowing about their whereabouts or well-being.

It will be different because we are different and life as we know it has changed.

This week, we are sharing thoughts on how to incorporate Israel, the war, the hostages, and a multitude of feelings of this moment into our Pesach observance. At the end of today’s blog is a short list of resources available for all Seders that offer readings, prayers, discussion questions, and thoughts to help guide us through this challenging moment. The following is a short sampling of thoughts on different parts of the Seder and how we can think about them differently. More to come next week…

There have been many ritualistic suggestions for how to differentiate one’s seder this year. Our Reform Movement in Israel suggests: filling our wine cups only halfway as one might fly a flag at half-mast when one is in mourning; to leave an empty chair with a picture of a hostage or someone who was killed to bring their presence to be with us; and to adorn our seder tables with yellow ribbon as a sign of solidarity with the movement to free the hostages.

This year during the Seder we are encouraged to include prayers for peace, for the return of the hostages, for the wounded, along with readings and poems for this moment which can be found here.

Teach it to Your Children

“וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ [ולְבִתְךָ] בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יהוה לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם” (שמות יג:ח)”

And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what יהוה did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)

At its essence, the Pesach story embodies the master narrative of the Jewish people. It is the celebration of the birth of the Jews as a people and nation. We were slaves in Egypt. We were liberated, received the Torah, and made our way to the Promised Land. On Pesach we remind our children who they are, where they come from, and what should be important to us.

This year we must speak to  our kids about what happened. We must tell them that Israel is at war (if they don’t already know) and that those in captivity are part of our extended family. And we must tell then that we care about the suffering of all human beings. As we worry and pray and watch from afar, Jewish adults in the Diaspora have been left in an unenviable bind: there are no words adequate for this situation, and yet we must speak about the events of the moment—and we must do so with children no less.

So, what story are we going to tell our children this year? How much detail do we go into, and what is our narrative?

Yachatz – Breaking the Middle Matzah:

Breaking the middle matzah this year can be a symbol of a broken heart, of the שבר, or brokenness that many of us are feeling. It can be a symbol of holding two kinds of mourning. The one half for our people who are grieving and mourning, traumatized and trying to heal. It is for our people who are broken yet resilient, and who are working to put the shattered fragments of their lives back together. The other half is for us not to forget our humanity and to think about those across the border celebrating their own holiday amidst the rubble and destruction. We can share their brokenness as well.

Rabbi Eli Kaunfer of the Hadar Institute suggests that at the meal which begins with eating matzah, instead of abundance we will feel absence. He proposes that instead of the three matzot that are included on the seder table (usually wrapped or covered in cloth), use only two. When it comes time to break one of the matzot to hide half for later (the Afikomen), we will have only one and a-half matzot left. This is meant to mark the suffering of those still in captivity by reducing our plenty and reclaiming the power of the “bread of suffering” at our seder.

Rabbi Alona Lisitza, an Israeli Reform Rabbi, offers the following Kavanah to be offered as we break the middle matzah:

“This year our heart is also divided, half of it here, around the table, is filled with joy and great gratitude for the family and our togetherness, for our freedom, for our full cups, for all the goodness with which we have been blessed.

And the other half is in Gaza, with our captives, who have neither freedom nor redemption nor do they have “Seder” (order) in their lives.

 At the same time, the heart is found in many places around Israel, in the houses where the families of the captives are and empty places around their tables.

 Our heart is broken into pieces.

This pain is sharp, and piercing, and wears away in our daily routine.

This year we will give this pain and this brokenness a place in our Seder.”*


Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat

Like every year, we must see this command to open our doors, our kitchens, and our tables as both a literal command and a metaphor. However, this year is indeed different. Over the past six months, we have seen an unbelievable mobilization effort around food. Kibbutzim and hotels around Israel mobilized overnight to absorb and welcome those who had to flee their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people left the Gaza envelope area in the South, and fled the rockets of Hezbollah in the North, and will celebrate Pesach as guests, not in their own homes. Israeli society mobilized to cook meals for all who are in need including thousands of soldiers who reported for duty and the army provided insufficient rations.

“Let All Who Are Hungry…” rings true for Gaza as well – as the more than one million residents of Gaza who are facing dire and severe food shortages threatening starvation. The World Central Kitchen, who lost 7 of its workers in an Israeli strike last week, is fulfilling this injunction: “Our teams have been able to establish a Field Kitchen in Rafah, create a network of community kitchens across Gaza, and send hundreds of aid trucks to communities in desperate need of food.”

When we read these words aloud around our tables let us do so knowing that people are starving.

Asking at least Four Questions…

There are so many questions to ask this year. This year left many of us shocked, dumbfounded, and grappling to internalize and process the depths and magnitude of the current reality.  As we rebuild and try to regain our bearings, now, after six months of war, we are confronted with deep and difficult questions.

Why did this happen?

When will it end?

Who is to blame?

Who is right and who is wrong?

Professor Sivan Zakai, of HUC-JIR explains that even if it might initially sound like children are asking us to be political pundits, and explain the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s much more likely that they are actually asking questions of theodicy:

Why do bad things happen?

Often, we look to the youngest voices around our tables to ask the four questions. But many more questions might help us think about our world through the lens of curiosity, and dare I say even doubt. Rather than opening with answers, posturing, and strongly held positions, let us approach with curiosity and ask one another questions to which there are no simple or correct answers. One set of questions to ask comes from a new program called “Dreams and Dilemmas” from Makom Israel of the Jewish Agency.

One set of questions concerns memory: How can we make sense of what has befallen us? How do we tell the story to ourselves?

A second set of questions revolves around us: Who are we becoming? And who, now, is part of our “us” — and who is not? Are we alone, or do we have friends?

A third set of questions concerns dreams: What dreams have been shattered? What dreams are still viable? What new dreams can be dreamt?

In Every Generation…

… We Must See Ourselves

בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ בּוֹנֶה אֶת בְּאֵרי…”

The Haggadah tells us that in every generation we must see ourselves as if we went forth from Egypt. Or Adam, a Sderot resident and member of the urban kibbutz movement, wrote a poem that he published ahead of Pesach this year. Here is an excerpt of his poem:

“In every generation each person must see themselves as if they are ‘the builders of [Kibbutz Be’eri].”

“In every generation, we must see ourselves building Be’eri.
Every one of us, in every time, will arise from the ashes
Grit our teeth and return to the borderlands
Coming out of Egypt, we will rise up like lions.
We will yet drink the water of life from the well of Be’eri.”

~ Or Adam, member of Migvan, the urban kibbutz in Sderot (English: Shaul Vardi) Erev Pesach 5784 – April 2024

This year, in addition to seeing ourselves as having left Egypt, we must also see ourselves as part of the ongoing story of the people of Israel. We must share in the trauma and must equally participate in rising out of the ashes to rebuild and renew who we are as a Jewish people.

In Every Generation…

…They Rise Up to Destroy Us

While we are taught that we need to see ourselves as if we went forth from Egypt, we are also taught that in every generation a different enemy rises up to destroy us. In thinking about the timeline of Jewish history one could come up with a myriad of dates and periods in which are people’s existence was threatened: spanning from 1400 BCE when we were enslaved in Egypt, to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and the Holocaust in 1939-1945 – with dozens of experiences in between. Now, October 7, 2023, must be added to the list of attempts to destroy us. This year that enemy is very real. This year is a time to grasp the historical moment we are in for the Jewish people, that despite our strength, achievement, and success – in Israel and abroad – Hamas (as an Iranian proxy) has, in no uncertain terms, lent itself to be the manifestation of this liturgical phrase.

Next Year in Jerusalem

No one knows what next year will bring. For those who were planning to travel to Israel this year but changed their plans, may you fulfill this wish literally and make your way to Jerusalem next year.

When we sit at our Seder tables in Israel one word is added to the end of this prayer. We say: “לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּיְרוּשָׁלָיִם הַבְּנוּיָה”- “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem.”  While the original prayer refers to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the concept of rebuilding could not be more poignant this year. This year we pray for those who fled their homes to return and rebuild (literally) their homes and their lives. We pray that an international coalition will come together to rebuild Gaza which is in shambles, so that Gazans can rebuild their lives as well, with a new government without Hamas.

We will need to rebuild and reconcile relationships with those who see the world very differently from us.

May this year be a year of redemption from captivity, freedom from hostility and war, and a year of rebuilding.

May we be inspired to support our Movement on the ground in Israel, and join in the efforts to rebuild for the coming year.

And may we all find ourselves Next Year in Jerusalem.


Shabbat Shalom and חג פסח שמח