Why We Retell the Passover Story

By Nancy B. Greer

President & CEO
Every Passover, we retell the story of our ancestors’ escape from slavery in Egypt and think anew about the lessons it holds for today and tomorrow.

Many of us will celebrate Passover for the second straight year in front of a screen at a “Zeder.” Some of us are able to gather in small groups. Few expected at the outset that the duration of the pandemic that upset our lives would be so long. Yet, I am hopeful that the pathway out of the narrow place is looking clearer. Our freedom to see and embrace family and friends, visit special places, and do the things that give us pleasure whenever we wish is drawing closer. I am so looking forward to gathering at an in-person Seder again, with friends and family around an intimate table, haggadot set meticulously on our plates, and a place left for Elijah.

Yet a world that is “back to normal” will not be the same as the pre-pandemic world. None of us put Jewish life on pause when the pandemic struck. Instead, collectively, we dug deeply into the spirit of resilience that has been foundational for our people for millennia. We made a virtue out of necessity—inventing new ways to stay connected, creating new ways to deliver services.

Together, we put into practice the value of collaboration— “a threefold cord is not easily broken”—and of hitlamdut, openness to learning. Together, we have discovered new ways to explore all that Judaism has to offer. We have learned that the virtual world has advantages for building and strengthening community. From the narrow place, we have opened a new dimension of freedom that will serve our community in the post-pandemic world.

There is another layer to Passover that bears reflecting upon. The Passover story is about our journey to freedom. The retelling of the Passover story reminds us that the journey is unfinished, that the promises of freedom remain unfulfilled for too many in our midst, which the events of the past year have made so evident. Our experience of injustice compels us to pursue justice, to redouble our efforts to welcome the stranger, to care for people in need, and to fight oppression and hatred in all their forms.

Passover is a story from our past but it is also a story for our future, of living up to the value of Kehilla/Areivut, community/mutual responsibility, for the well-being of the Jewish people and striving to repair the larger world to which we are inseparably bound. When we proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem,” we are setting our intention for that brighter future for which we hope and labor.

Chag Pesach Sameach!