Passover Brings Hope

Sunday, 21 March, 2021 - 12:29 pm

 Blog photo - Pesach Brings Hope.jpg

The history of Passover reminds me of COVID-19. Not because the pandemic has the makings of the ten plagues in Egypt, but rather, because the takeaway from the holiday is an inspirational message, which resonates in our present situation. My experiences of the pandemic revolve mostly around my daily interactions within my community as Head of School at the Hebrew Academy. The Academy was forced to close in March, like most other schools, for the rest of the year. We retooled and converted to distance learning with impressive results. At the same time, with the assistance of our remarkable staff, we kept in touch through innovative points of contact with the hundreds of families we serve. But it could not replace live face-to-face interaction. We recognized that families felt isolated and lonely. It was especially true for the children, who normally require a heightened personal level of interaction, who were now hurting and increasingly feeling lonely and depressed. A meeting a parent requested in order to discuss the difficulty drove home the gravity of the situation. She relayed how, as an officer in a large police department deployed in the school division, she had been observing the gradual deterioration of societal norms of positivity and optimism with young people. “I can’t let my own children fall into the same abyss,” she said. “You’ve got to help me keep up my children’s spirits and give them the opportunity to interact with others. Your distance learning program is great but it does not cover their main needs of positive interaction with their friends.” I recognized that she was actually calling out in desperation. “I will be grateful for whatever you can do,” she concluded. I had recognized the situation even before she brought it to light, but this conversation accentuated the need to do something for the hundreds of families in our school who shared her sentiment. And then I thought about Passover. Passover is always scheduled to take place in the springtime. In fact the entire Jewish lunar calendar is constructed so that Passover falls in the springtime. While the standard calendar adds a single leap day in February, the Jewish calendar has the entire leap month of Adar almost every three years. The purpose is to regulate the calendar so that Passover always falls during the Spring. Springtime is when the dormant trees and plants suddenly spring to life. It is a time of hope and optimism that despite the darkness and a cold Winter, a better time is arriving soon. There is no reason to be depressed by the present situation if we have hope of a better future. And, that hope is anchored in faith – faith that the G-d of goodness will ultimately redeem us even in the harshest of times. The first verse of the Haggadah, as a reply to the famous Four Questions states, “We were enslaved in Egypt and G-d redeemed us from that place with powerful strength.’ And much of the rest of the Haggadah talks about the beauty of the new opportunity we encountered. It sounds familiar that from the pods of Egypt, described as “each person quarantined in their homes” the night of Passover, they were redeemed to forge a new Jewish nation. Moses provided that hopeful message, and today we witness the vibrant effects of that message of hope. I urged the distraught mom to have faith and keep her hopes high that the school was going to provide positive social contact and lift the spirits of her children. And, we pulled through for her. The school has provided uninterrupted education every day from the beginning of the school year. We have fulfilled our commitment to her children together with hundreds of others who have thrived under the program. As we conduct classes every single day it has been an inspiration to witness the hope and cheer on the students’ faces. There is no doubt that we will get out of this pandemic. And that hope, right now, will join with the actualization of the ultimate hopeful message of Passover when we proclaim, in the last passage in the Haggadah; “Next year in Jerusalem!” Happy Passover to all! 

Rabbi Yitzchok Newman
Head of School, Hebrew Academy Orange County

Reposted from JCC Chronicle March/April 2021 Issue 

Article can be found on page 8 - 



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