Post-Pesach reflections — comfort and connection

Post-Pesach reflections — comfort and connection

If our last issue dwelt heavily on Jewish connections and the different messages Jews receive from the world around us, it is because our reality demands that we take these issues seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that I’m willing to wager that most of our seders at least touched on the issue of the hostages and the ongoing Gaza war. Many of us left extra place settings at our tables as makeshift reminders that some Jews are not free. (No surprise to the young Jewish students who are forced to barricade themselves on the Columbia campus.)

My 12-year-old grandson asked me how the hostages would know about the empty chair and find their way to the house. I replied that we weren’t expecting them to come. Rather, we were reminding ourselves not to forget them.

Some of us also made use of a wonderful post-October 7 Passover supplement prepared by the Academy for Jewish Religion. Some of the mental images it engendered haunted me throughout the seder. The idea of opening the door for Elijah takes on a much deeper resonance when we think of the families who gripped their door handles to keep out the invaders. And after my recent visit to a devastated kibbutz, I couldn’t even imagine opening the door at all.

My daughter recently began researching family history. It came about suddenly, when her son, participating in the March of the Living, called to ask if we had any ancestors from Poland for whom he could say Kaddish while he was there. Following every possible lead, my daughter found a large community of Goldriches in Anatol, where her son’s group would be visiting.

Sadly, once there, he learned that all the residents of the town had been herded together and killed. No one remained, and the recently erected memorial did not contain names. But he took the opportunity to say Kaddish for all the dead, feeling all the closer to them now because he felt personally involved.

Another grandchild — who is spending several months in Israel as part of a school program — spent Pesach in London with her family, who met her there. They enjoyed a seder at the local Chabad House and then visited cousins in Golders Green for Shabbat.

Apparently, everything felt natural to my granddaughter, who has come to relish sharing Shabbat meals with Jews all over the world. The predictability of it all — stability in an unstable world. The food, the prayers, the ritual restrictions, and now, sadly, the shared fears, draw us all closer together. Even more, shared stories about long-gone relatives tightened the bond, creating a larger circle.

The emotional warmth of shared Shabbats also struck her on a recent visit to her father’s friends in Chicago. Arriving on a Friday afternoon, she knew that several hours later they would all be sitting around a Shabbat table filled with food, laughter, and familiar songs, even if their families didn’t share the same melodies.  What a nice slice of comfort in a disordered world. Not something you would experience on a weeknight at a restaurant. “You talk to people on Shabbat,” she said. “You sit down with people you never met and you have something in common. Shared things, like benching.”

Interestingly, the relationship of comfort and connectedness seems to operate differently in Israel. Connection — one Israeli to another, all Israelis to their country — seems to be built into their DNA. Just look at the grassroots emergency network that was almost fully operational by Oct. 8. Resettling fellow citizens, cooking food for soldiers, memorializing the dead, advocating for those who were taken hostage — no need to talk to Israelis about the power of connection.

Comfort, however, is a different story. Before October 7, Israelis knew they were surrounded by enemies but they felt safe and protected. That feeling is gone — replaced by one of vulnerability. Distrustful of the government, no longer sure that the IDF will always be there for them, their vulnerability is new, and it is heartbreaking. Perhaps that is how Jewish kids on campus here are feeling now. Also heartbreaking.

This was not meant to be a sad article, so let’s end on a happy note. At my son’s beautiful seder, he called an intermission for a special project, new to us all. Distributing multicolored balloons and stickers correlating to the plagues, he asked us to decorate each balloon. Since each one had cardboard legs, it could be stood on a long table where the assembled plagues could stare us down, a constant reminder not to incur God’s wrath.

Lois Goldrich of Fair Lawn is, among other things, an editor emerita of the Jewish Standard.

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