We are about to celebrate the Festival of Passover. This festival is also known by other names such as “The Festival of Freedom” and “The Festival of Spring.” But it is also known by the name Hag HaMatzot, “The Festival of Matzah.”
Every Jewish child knows that an integral part of the Pesach festival is to eat matzah.
Last year, in some kosher grocery stores, you could actually purchase a box of matzah with the Kashrut certification of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky – the Chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovski – which is in Ukraine.
This matzah was produced in that very country, which until a couple months ago was home to a large Jewish community numbering around 200,000. The fact that such a box of matzah could exist at all is amazing since many of us are old enough to remember how, when Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union, matzah actually had to be smuggled into the country so that members of the Jewish community there could celebrate Passover.
Since Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, the wheat fields which might have produced that matzah have almost all been destroyed, mined or left barren. Ukraine was one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, just one of the many things that are tragically different now in Ukraine. Many Jews have fled, including relatives of our own shul community who thankfully were able to escape the horror and emigrate to Israel.
Thank G-d there is an Israel today which is there to take Jews in who are in distress. And how ironic it is that only a few decades ago, in the very country where being labeled a Jew was a death sentence, today being a Jew is actually an advantage – since Ukrainian Jews trying to flee for safety now have a place willing to go the extra mile to welcome them home.
As stories of the atrocities in Ukraine continue to be revealed, we better understand in stark, painful clarity just how precious freedom is and how it is a privilege that must often be fought for at a tremendous cost. Passover, also known as “The Festival of Freedom,” is taking on an additional meaning for us this year as we look to Ukraine and are reminded of how these freedoms should never be taken for granted.
Thankfully we are blessed to be free, and we are able to observe Pesach this year together and in person! Let us all say an extra prayer at our seder tables so that everyone around the world might enjoy these same freedoms which we usually take for granted. Hag Kasher v’Sameyach!
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Dunwoody where he has served as spiritual leader for 33 years.