Passover message from Rabbi London

Headshot of Rabbi London

The Haggadah tells us…

that we were slaves in Egypt, not our ancestors, but us. It reminds us annually that we need to recount our slavery and exodus from Egypt in ways that resonate with what is happening in our lives and in the world.

The Klei Kodesh have compiled resources from various sources and for different age groups to help your seder convey the themes of Passover that speak to the feelings and experiences of those gathered around your seder table. As helpful as some of these resources may be, it’s also important how you engage the people who are coming to your seder. My advice is that you don’t prepare all the materials yourself, but invite people to bring supplemental pieces to enhance different parts of the seder. In this way, you will achieve the purpose of the seder— to be a multivocal symposium of ideas and opinions about slavery and freedom. 

One example of how to do this is to ask everyone who is coming to your seder to bring an item for a supplemental seder plate that represents slavey or freedom to them. Then during the seder, you can ask people to explain why they brought that item. Lots of organizations make suggestions about additional items to put on the seder plate that speak to contemporary issues, but it engages people more deeply if everyone attending your seder brings something symbolic to them. When my guests arrive, I have them put their item on this “alternative” seder plate, and, at various points during the seder, I pick up an item and ask the person who brought it to speak about it. 

Additionally, in this year when conversations both within our community and between different communities are fraught with emotion and a broad spectrum of different opinions, I offer the following instruction for how to begin your seder to create a safe and open space for conversation.   

“Let all who are hungry come and eat”

We remind ourselves at the beginning of our seder when we recite Halachma Anya—the bread of affliction—of the sacred obligation of opening our homes and inviting people over for a sumptuous meal. Seder, or course, is more than just matzah ball soup and gefilte fish. It provides food for thought. Before we eat, we first tell the story of our people’s Exodus from Egypt and contemplate its meaning today. As we read in the Haggadah, “Whoever expounds upon the story of the Exodus is to be praised.”

How are we to expound upon the story this year? 

Many people are nervous about how the conversations around their seder table will go this year given the variety of strong opinions about the war in Israel and Gaza within our families and amongst our friends. 

Interfaith America has a bridgebuilding curriculum that teaches us how to engage in conversation when emotions are running high and opinions are strong. We used these techniques during the conversations that followed each lecture during our scholars-in-residence weekend in February when Drs. Hussein Ibish and David Myers spoke about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Interfaith America recommends beginning what could be tense and explosive conversations with the following invitation:

“Our intention is to take seriously the things that others hold dear. If it matters to you, then it will matter to us.

We are not here to convince anyone they are wrong or try to change them; 

We are curious why people think the way they do, and rather than thinking we are diminished by listening carefully to ideas we might disagree with; we trust that we are enhanced by it; and

We believe there is more common ground and experience than we anticipate, and when there isn’t, we can fundamentally disagree with someone and still respect, even love, them.”

These past six months have been fraught with despair and trauma. And when we are grappling with hard issues and powerful emotions, it can be hard for us to listen to each other. The freedom we need this year is not to remain trapped in ways that keep us from learning and growing and being respectful of one another.

When we say this year, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” may this invitation be for nourishing discourse, and may we continue to grow in our ability to listen respectfully to one another. How can we meet the challenge our Haggadah sets out for us to expound upon the story of the Exodus in ways that are praiseworthy? By listening and speaking with openness and love. 

Finally, we also know that there are people who are physically in need, and it’s an important mitzvah—sacred obligation—to provide for them. Please consider a donation to our Rabbi Peter and Elaine Soup Kitchen a Beth Emet or Mazon (a national organization working to end hunger) (Donate here). If you want to support people in Israel and Gaza who are suffering, consider a donation to ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle East Peace). ALLMEP is a coalition of over 160 organizations, uniting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis in the pursuit of cooperation, justice, equality, shared society, mutual understanding, and lasting peace within their communities.  At present, they are actively mobilizing emergency funds for NGOs to provide aid to those facing the hardships of the conflict. Donate here

May your seders be meaningful and may they instill in us a commitment to work for freedom and dignity for everyone. May this be a season of new growth, peace, and well-being for all of us.

Hag Pesach Sameach,

Rabbi London


(Link to Passover Poetry) (Link to Seder songs by Cantor Young) (Link to Passover resource guide)