From Our CEO
A Resonant Passover
April 19th, 2024

"In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us."

"This year we're slaves; next year may we all be free.”

"Let my people go!”

Have we ever arrived at Passover with the words of the Haggadah more resonant in our current lives?

In any other year, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt as if we ourselves were there, we rely on a script, ritual acts, and symbolic foods to transport us to another time and place. Normally, it takes a concerted effort for us to access what it might feel like to be oppressed, to be stripped of freedom.

This year, with the seder marking 199 days since the atrocities of October 7 and the hostages being taken captive, the concept of Egypt, Mitzrayim — translated as the “narrow place” — seems closer than ever.

It’s the newly empty seat at the seder table, and the grief for a child killed in battle or a parent being held hostage in the tunnels of Gaza.

It’s sitting in the darkened bomb shelter, waiting for ballistic missiles from Iran, or rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas.

And it’s in the growing unease of feeling targeted for being a Jew here in New York.

To be sure, Jews across the world still have much to be grateful for — so many blessings.

But at far too many seder tables this year, no saltwater and no bitter herbs will be needed to evoke the pain of oppression.

The Passover story serves as a balm in these troubled times, with the Haggadah taking us on a journey of redemption.

We begin by remembering what it means to be oppressed, how we were spared the plagues, how God took us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and parted the sea. And then, we sing songs of gratitude and recline, as only free people can.

We hold in balance the memory of our enslavement and the celebration of our freedom, an expression of the resilience that has sustained the Jewish people throughout our history.

And so it was again this past weekend in Israel, with an attack from Iran imminent, but no idea what exactly would unfold.

I was in Tel Aviv for my nephew's wedding and, despite the impending attack, the beaches on Shabbat couldn't have been more crowded. Saturday night was a tense and surreal experience. We learned that hundreds of drones and ballistic missiles had been fired by Iran and were expected to reach Israel in a few hours. Some communities in the north and south adjacent to military bases and other sensitive sites were instructed to enter bomb shelters. And there were red alert sirens in Jerusalem, sending residents into bomb shelters and saferooms.

In Tel Aviv, while we heard many jets flying overhead, no sirens were sounded to warn of incoming attack. We stayed up well into the night watching the news (the CNN correspondent was reporting live from the roof of our hotel), and we prayed that the defenses would hold up and for the well-being of Israel and its citizens.

Later, we learned many others did the same. The most searched word on Google in Israel during this time? “Psalms.” The prayers people traditionally recite in times of fear and distress.

In the end, we know Israel’s defensive shield, backed by the United States, Britain, and a regional alliance that has the potential to reshape the world, performed spectacularly.

That might have been “Dayenu.”

But on Sunday, the beaches of Tel Aviv were once again full. In the evening, I attended my nephew’s raucously joyous wedding. And just this morning — following news of Israel’s strike on a military base in Iran — I attended the bris of a cousin's grandchild, who was named after a relative killed during the Holocaust.

Resilience has never been a theoretical concept to our people — we remember and we celebrate. It’s how we’ve picked ourselves up from the ashes again and again, building families and an extraordinary community.

Making real the words of the Haggadah, with the emphasis on the second part: “Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now, we are free.

May these words and the story of our redemption bring solace to the families of the hostages, the bereaved, and a nation at war. 

May we all experience true freedom — and soon.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach