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Apr 14 2014

As We Celebrate Passover, The Tragedy in Kansas City is a Painful Reminder of Our History

By at 11:17 am

JCC-kansas

Tonight, the Jewish people will collectively celebrate our freedom from bondage. As yesterday’s murders at two Jewish targets in Overland Park, Kansas by a white supremacist made quite clear, there are still those who hate us, who murder us, who want to see a world without Jews. We mourn the murdered, and bemoan a world where such horrors can happen in unexpected moments and places.

But tonight, we will open the doors to our homes to welcome in a taste of the “World to Come.” We will recline, we will rejoice. All who are hungry, let them come and eat in our Seder feast. Let them hear the story of how far we have come, over thousands of years.

We live.

We have celebrated the Exodus of Egypt for hundreds upon hundreds of years. But this is not the first time that our tables will have been pockmarked by the scars of empty chairs.

During the Spanish Inquisition, with the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, many Jews converted to Christianity but continued to practice their faith in secret. The Inquisition persecuted these Jews who were deemed heretics and burned at the stake. The custom of opening the door for Elijah at the seder, some say, comes from the Inquisition, when Jews secretly holding seders would check to make sure there were no spies outside their homes.

And yet, years later, we live.

During World War Two, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland fought a fierce, brave rebellion against their Nazi oppressors. The Nazis entered the ghetto to send all its Jewish inhabitants to death camps on the first night of Passover. One survivor recalled Rabbi Eliezer Meisel’s seder:

“The table in the center of the room looked incongruous with glasses filled with wine, with the family seated around, the rabbi reading the Haggaddah. 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.”

The Jews, near starving, fought against the Nazis with great tenacity and bravery. They held up for weeks until the ghetto was destroyed.

And yet, years later, we live.

In 2002, a suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel on the first night of Passover, where the room was full of Jews holding a seder, and blew himself up to murder as many Jewish people as possible. Thirty people were killed; 140 were horribly injured. Many of the victims were elderly Holocaust survivors.

And yet, years later, we live.

Yesterday, a 73-year-old white supremacist in Overland Park, Kansas shot people in the parking lots of a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish assisted living facility, murdering three people in broad daylight. As he was driven away in police custody, people heard him say, “Heil Hitler.”

And yet, hours later, we live.

Tonight, we will sit down at tables for a celebration and ceremony that shows that, in spite of everything, we endure. We have been slaves in Egypt. We have been murdered in our own towns and places of worship. There are those who have wished us dead, and there are those who still want to wipe us off the face of the earth.

But when we sit down with our families and friends and our people, and open our Haggadot and tell the story of the People of Israel, we show what it means to be alive and to be Jewish. And we show our pride in our heritage, and our history. And it is an act of great meaning, and bravery, and love.

Sitting at a seder is an act of courage. It is an act of hope. It is an act of affirmation of Jewish identity. And it is an act of attempting to create a new and better world.

We fill our chairs, and we inspire future generations to fill theirs and to tell the story, to remember and to prove that we will never, ever, ever be destroyed. Instead, we will keep trying to repair the world and to make its brokenness whole, through our stories and our lives.

And we will read these words: “For not one time alone have they risen up against our fathers and ourselves to destroy us–but in every generation have they risen up against us to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, delivers us from their hand.” And in making this night different from all other nights by attending a seder, we will, in our way, attempt to deliver ourselves as well.

Chag Sameach.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the Overland Park, Kansas shooting. Baruch Dayan Emet.

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