Of Pesach, Generations, and Memory

Shortly before Pesach, my wife and I will celebrate the first birthday of a grandson whom we have yet to meet in person.  Since his birth in New York City, during the early weeks of the pandemic (at a time when his father could not enter the hospital because of prevailing COVID-19 restrictions), we have watched his considerable growth via FaceTime.  The availability of such technology is truly a gift. 

This year marks the second successive Passover that many families, accustomed to large seder gatherings, will find modified ways of connecting with one another before or during the festival.  We are all appreciative of the opportunity of communicating with loved ones “real time.”  This is particularly so at Pesach, a holiday of generations and shared memory.

The original Passover recounted in the Bible (Exodus 12:3-11), marked the holiday as an experience to be celebrated in each household.  It was not to be a “one-off,” but recalled throughout the generations.  “This day shall become a remembrance for you…” (Exodus 12:14). 

While the Jewish people shares a collective narrative, each family unit has its unique experience on the journey to Pesach 2021 (5781 in the Hebrew calendar).  Sharing the story, across generations, of how the family came to be in this locale at this time is an organic extension of the haggadah, the telling.  That nearly seven million Jews live in the United States -- in 1880, that number was 250,000 -- is quite remarkable (that nearly seven million Jews live in the sovereign State of Israel -- in 1880, 25,000 Jews lived in that Ottoman-controlled area -- is all the more remarkable), the most recent chapter in a continuing saga.   

As a second Pesach in pandemic times approaches, the haggadah stands as a narrative of hope; a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  The pandemic, as other challenges along the journey, will yield to a time of renewed possibility.  May each of us, one day, share with grandchildren an account of sedarim amidst a pandemic that will have become an historical memory, and may that memory – as the exodus from Egypt -- inspire us to greater appreciation of the blessings we enjoy.

Dr. Gil Graff is the Executive Director of BJE.