A Passover Message from Rabbi Josh Hearshen
Members of the extended Atlanta Jewish community expresses their thoughts about the 2023 Passover holiday, using the prompt, "Unity Creates Community."
Passover is a holiday that tends to unite the Jewish people. It’s thought to be the most widely observed Jewish ritual around the world and it’s something that causes many Jews, who are otherwise relatively non-observant, to be in a similar boat as their more observant brethren. Each year, we prepare by reviewing menus and recipes. We locate our ritual objects and we clean our houses. This varies from family to family and community to community, but, for the most part, Jews will be united in some form of observance when it comes time for Passover. Throughout the Seder, we read time and again first-person plural language. The narrative is not about “you.” It’s not about “him/her.” It’s not about “them.” It’s all about us…we were slaves and we left Egypt as a people. This is not my story, it’s our story and it matters.
Jewish unity has always been a struggle because we seem very good at creating groups. There’s a joke about the Jewish man who was stranded on a deserted island. When he was rescued, he showed the many things he built to his rescuers. Amongst those items were two synagogues: one for him to pray in and one in which he would never set foot. While the joke is silly, it’s also way too real. We, as a people, have taken ourselves and divided into so many groups and subgroups that, at times, it’s impossible to see how each of us is a piece of the greater collective. The reality is many of us find comfort in our special subgroups of the Jewish community and also find ourselves in the greater collective, all at once. In this model, we have Venn diagrams, and that’s a super way to be a larger community. At times, however, we run the risk of creating non-overlapping communities that retreat into themselves and refuse to see they have a larger community to be a part of.
These past months have been very taxing in the Jewish world. A large majority of Jews feel a deep connection to the state of Israel and we’ve been quite alarmed by all that’s been transpiring there. Our Israeli brothers and sisters are finding themselves more and more tribal and less and less united. They’re finding they’re being split apart and the danger that irreparable damage could be done in our homeland is real. As a warning to the Jewish world and the citizens of Israel, one need not look any further than 70 C.E. when we last lost our Jewish nation through an appalling lack of unity. So long as we continue to sow disharmony, that’s what we will reap.
It’s my prayer that we take the moments of Passover to see the large amount we share as one Jewish community made up of Jews of all shapes and sizes. It’s my prayer that we find the hunger for the unity that seems to be slipping from our grasp. It’s my prayer that Passover unify us in our mission of being in a communal relationship with G-d through Torah and that we, as a Jewish community, grow inward towards one another in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Rabbi Josh Hearshen is the rabbi at Congregation Or VeShalom.