This Friday night will be the first night of Pesach and we will celebrate the Seder. In the Maftir this week we read
וּבַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן בְּאַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר י֖וֹם לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ פֶּ֖סַח לַֽיהֹוָֽה
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, [you shall offer up] a Passover offering to the Lord.
During the Seder and just before we recite Hallel we read Rabbi Gamaliel who mentions Pesach (the paschal offering). Matzo and Maror before going on to say
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם
In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt
Sitting peacefully in our homes this year it is easy to go straight on to Hallel and to the meal but not stopping to consider what we will just have read.
Many of us may think of our grandparents and even great grandparents and what happened in their lives. The television series “Who do you think you are?” uncovers histories we can only have guessed at. How did those who came before us celebrate their own Seder in their own times?
On the 19th of April 1943, Passover eve, the Germans entered the Warsaw ghetto. Tuvia Borzykowski, a member of the Jewish Fighting Organization, described the Seder in Rabbi Eliezer Meisel's apartment:
No one slept that night. Everybody spent the time packing the most necessary articles, linen, bedding, food and taking it down to the bunkers. The moon was full and the night was unusually bright. There was more movement in the courtyards and streets than by day.
It was Passover eve, 1943, and we had arranged everything in the house in preparation for the holiday. We even had Matzot (unleavened bread), everything. We had made the beds… The policeman who lived with us always told us everything that was going to happen… He told us, "You should know that the ghetto is surrounded – with Ukrainians. Tonight will not be a good night." He had heard this. We took all our belongings and went into the bunker. Why wait? … So we took what we still had at home, whatever food we had, everything, and went down into the bunker; and waited.
Amidst this destruction, the table in the centre of the room looked incongruous with glasses filled with wine, with the family seated around, the rabbi reading the Haggadah. His reading was punctuated by explosions and the rattling of machine-guns; the faces of the family around the table were lit by the red light from the burning buildings nearby.
What sort of Pesach will the Ukrainian Jews celebrate this year?
Pesach is sometimes described as the Festival of Freedom. We are a fortunate generation living in peace in a stable society. When we complete the Seder by reciting “next year in Jerusalem” we are actually praying that we will have that freedom but it is something we need to work for. Freedom is a fragile thing.