On Passover, we generally think of Egypt and how we got out of there with as many technicolor miracles as possible. But this year, I want to add another geographic location to our exodus narrative.
My heart (and the rest of my body) is in Paris right now – which is natural, you may think, given that it is springtime (or at least supposed to be). But Paris is on my mind not for romantic reasons, but rather for pragmatic ones:
When possibility knocks at your doorstep, there are two ways to respond. You can open the door and take the risk that it offers, or you can pretend that you don’t hear the knock and stay where you are. You avoid risk that way but you also miss a lot of opportunities. There is a famous rabbinic calculation in the Talmud that only 20% of the Jews who could have left Egypt did. The rest were afraid and either died or assimilated as a result. They never became part of the Jewish peoplehood equation in those ancient days.
Theodor Herzl was a journalist working in Paris who witnessed and wrote about responses to the Dreyfus affair. He saw thousands in the streets protest, shouting, “Death to the Jews.” Although not a religious man, Herzl felt himself Jewish to his very core and needed to find a solution to Jewish persecution and oppression in exile. We were too vulnerable in the streets of France. I was passing the hotel where he wrote "The Jewish State" on my way to meeting with some Jewish leaders here and thought about that history.
Now jump more than 100 years into the future, and imagine the five thousand people I saw who came to our "aliyah fair" in Paris, as their response to poor economic conditions, growing tensions and anti-Semitism. Just as we repeat the Passover story year after year, it seems that history does repeat itself, and solutions repeat themselves as well. Today there is an Israel for French Jews who no longer feel at home in their host country. There was Israel for my fellow Soviet Jews when the Iron Curtain made life oppressive. And, given the tensions in Ukraine these days -- it is there again for those who want to come. We brought more than three million Jews to Israel, including almost 20,000 last year. And we stand ready to do more.
When we end the Haggadah with the words, "Next Year in Jerusalem,” let’s not forget that this is not only a statement of possibility. It is a statement of reality for those who need the refuge and the homeland, who cannot achieve belonging where they are. Possibility knocks and some will answer that call. But “Next Year in Jerusalem” is also more than a simple prayer. It is a modern expression of Jewish gratitude. How very lucky we are that Herzl’s iconic words, “If you will it, it is no dream”, became more than a dream, but a real city of dreamers for us.
Do me a favor: This Passover, when you say “Next Year in Jerusalem,” say it a little louder than usual. Think of our global Jewish family and all those who will say this and mean it this year. Maybe you will be one of them.
Have a wonderful Passover,