On the Road
By Rabbi Jill Jacobs
"Prayer is useless unless it is subversive,
unless it shatters pyramids and loosens the calluses on the
heart." -- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
The holiday of Passover (Pesach) is a celebration of
hope. The Hagaddah tells the unlikely story of a people,
enslaved for generations, who escape from oppression at the
hands of a tyrant and who find freedom and peoplehood in the
wilderness. The first command given collectively to the Jewish
people -- "This month shall be for you the beginning of months"
(Exodus 12:1) -- reaffirms for us that there is always another
chance to start afresh. And celebrating this liberation just as
spring is begins offers a visual symbol of the ever-present
possibility of renewal.
If we were to read the story of the exodus for the
first time, without knowing the ending, we might think it
impossible that the Jewish people would ever escape slavery.
After all - Pharaoh, under whose control they live, has a
hardened heart, and the Jews themselves lose, over the course of
400 years of enslavement, any hope of liberation. As the Hasidic
saying goes, "The true exile of the people of Israel in Egypt
was that they learned to accept it." And yet - despite these
odds, the Jewish people do leave slavery and begin the journey
In the past four years of almost daily violence in
Israel and the occupied territories, we, too, may have suffered
from a similar sense of despair and helplessness. At times, it
has been difficult to believe that anything short of a miracle
could resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the
Palestinians. And yet, even during the darkest days, many of us
- on all sides of the conflict - have sustained the hope that
peace is possible, and in so doing, resisted true exile.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which can be
literally translated as "narrow places." On the night of the
seder, as we recount the story of the exodus, we also attempt to
leave behind our own narrowness and to make ourselves more open
to a new world of possibility. This year our escape from the
constriction of the vicious cycle of Israeli-Palestinian
violence is not only symbolic. We have, over the past six
months, witnessed the emergence of a Palestinian leadership
committed to non-violence, the Israeli commitment to withdraw
from Gaza, and the ceasefire. All of these developments signal
an unprecedented opening for peace. This opportunity has come
about only because, despite all odds, enough people refused to
Pesach teaches us that freedom and redemption do not
come about quickly or easily, but that both are always possible,
even during the bleakest of times. This Pesach, this lesson
takes on special meaning as we look forward to a year in which
our hopes for peace begin to be realized. At the same time, we
recognize that the road to peace will be a long one, and we
recommit ourselves to working toward this vision.
1. Incorporate passages from these resources into
your seder traditions:
Who Sits with Us at our Seder? - A Hagaddah
Supplement, by Rabbis for Human Rights.
The Passover of Peace: A Seder for the Children of
Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, by Arthur Waskow.
Pesach 5765 (2005), APN Haggadah
"A Prayer for Peace and..," by Rabbi Shelia
Petz Weinberg. For suggested use at the close of the
"The Prayer for Peace," by Rabbi
Levi-Weiman Kelman, past chair of Rabbis for Human
Rights-Israel. For suggested use at the close of the seder.
2. Start a dialogue
about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at your seder table.
Below are ideas for questions:
3. Make a donation to Rabbis for Human Rights
Kimkha D'Peskah fund that helps indigent families in the Israeli
cities of Ashkelon, Arad and Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
For instructions on how to donate to this important cause online
or via post, please go to http://www.rhr-na.org/contactus/donate.html. Please earmark your gift for "Kimkah
- Do you think that we, as American Jews, can be
anything more than spectators to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, watching a tragedy unfold more deeply each day?
- What do you think we can we do to best support
Israelis in this time of
- What exactly do you think is the threat
Jews/Israelis are now facing and how do you believe we can most
effectively address that threat?
- What can we do to bring about a peaceful solution to
the conflict now?
- Do you think we'll ever be able to tell our children
that Jews are no longer at war with our Arab
- Is there any way to resolve this conflict without
one side winning and the other losing?
- Do you really think that all Muslims and Arabs hate
Jews and want to kill us?
- Do you have any Muslim or Arab friends or
acquaintances and if not, have you ever considered trying to
build a friendship with someone of Muslim or Arab
4. For those who are interested in a text-based
discussion: The Prophet Elijah is believed to herald the
Messiah's arrival. It is customary during the seder to set aside
a cup of wine for him and even to open a door in anticipation of
his arrival. One of the central issues in rabbinical debate is
about when Elijah and thus the messiah will arrive: Will it take
place when people have committed themselves fully to the repair
of the world or will the Messiah arrive as a function of divine
Read the First Book of Kings, Chapter 21 as a basis
for discussing: What was the role of Elijah in the Bible? Is
this where we get the idea of speaking truth to power? Are there
situations in your life when you feel as though you are acting
in Elijah's spirit? Why might he, in particular, have been
chosen as the harbinger of the Messiah? How does Elijah's sprit
relate to our own work on behalf of a resolution to the
If you have other
ideas, please contact the Brit Tzedek Religious Affairs
Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and
11 E. Adams Street, Suite
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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