April 21, 2024


Dear CBI Family,

Four years ago we experienced a Passover festival as we had never experienced before. With lockdowns in place, we were confined to our own homes. Those big seders some of us look forward to each year just could not happen. Luckily many of us found a way to be together through Zoom.

We have been faced many times in our long history with even more challenging circumstances as Passover approached. The question was never: “Are we going to observe the festival?” but, rather: “How are we going to observe?” There are countless stories about Jewish families and communities figuring out how to celebrate during the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and more recently, during the era of the Soviet Union. We are currently living through another such time that poses new questions:

How can we celebrate our freedom when our Jewish and Israeli siblings are still held in captivity in Gaza?

How are we to make sense of Moses’ words to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’?

How do we sing praises of thanksgiving when families have been decimated?

How are we to wrap our heads around the text of the haggadah that speaks to the heartbreaking, yet necessary, suffering of the Egyptians as we witness the destruction in Gaza?

Additionally, being outwardly Jewish in today’s world—most notably for our college-aged children and friends on campus—brings new challenges that many of us have never had to deal with before.

All of this points to a potentially deflated Passover. Yet, we must refuse to give in to this sadness. We owe it to those who are unable to celebrate Passover with their families this year. My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Joel Simonds recently posted the following:

“It’s ok to smile at the seder table!! Amidst the challenges of anti-Semitism and the war in Israel, Passover reminds us to celebrate resilience and hope. As we prepare to gather with loved ones, we affirm our commitment to joy despite adversity.

“Our children who have endured much this year, deserve to experience the warmth of tradition and the promise of a better tomorrow. Our children have witnessed our tears, they have watched the news, they have passed through multiple armed guards just to pray in shul. They deserve a night of joy.

“So let us gather this year with unwavering faith in a brighter future.”

This is exactly my prayer for our Beth Israel community and for our extended Jewish family abroad. As the Psalmist wrote, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”

May you and your loved ones have a meaningful and happy Passover seder. May we all go from strength to strength!

A zissen pesach,

Rabbi Joshua Samuels