This Wednesday, Jewish people around the world will celebrate the Divine gift of Jewish survival and community. We will hold Seders – whether in person or, in many cases, virtually – to commemorate the exodus of the Jewish people from the house of bondage in Egypt, telling the story of the journey from slavery to freedom, along with the songs, customs and food.
During the Passover Seder, it is customary for the youngest child at the table to ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
And in our new normal of social distancing, it is no understatement that this Seder will be different from all other Seders. Simply put, the coronavirus has upended many of the traditions that have become synonymous with Passover for most of American Jewry.
While disappointing to be sure, I am confident that we will get through this because of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people.
Central to the Passover story are the 10 Plagues, and it is worth remembering that this is not the first time the Jewish people has confronted plague or persecution. From the persecution of the Jewish people during the Black Death in the 14th century – when Jews were irrationally held responsible for the spread of disease, and untold thousands of innocent men, women and children were viciously slaughtered, and entire Jewish communities were wiped out as though they’d never existed – to the anti-Jewish pogroms in the 19th-century Russian Pale, the Jewish people has faced adversity at the highest level, and has, time and again, overcome it, gotten stronger, and thrived.
Look no further than the founding of the State of Israel, which rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust – arguably the most horrific human tragedy in the history of mankind. And today, it is worth celebrating that the Jews have returned to the Promised Land – whatever its political failures and foibles may be – and could very well play a central role in leading the world out of the coronavirus crisis.
I have been heartened by recent news that the Israel Institute for Biological Research has made “significant progress” toward a coronavirus vaccine which it will soon test on animals, and that the bold and swift containment measures implemented by the Israeli government appear to be working.
As the head of the World Jewish Congress, I can say we are doing absolutely everything we can for Jewish communities around the world during this most challenging of times. And I have urged all members of the Jewish community to take an unyielding stand against any and all efforts to vilify any individual, community, people or nation for the crisis unfolding around us. Make no mistake, we will get through the coronavirus crisis, as we have gotten through so many seemingly existential threats over the last 2,000 years.
Above all, I urge Jews to heed the lessons from the story of Passover. Indeed, even the most secular among us can and should remember that the great and enduring spirit of the Jewish people will carry us through this, as it has for millennia. As we will read this Seder: “This year we are slaves. Next year, may we all be free…. L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim.”