After October 7th, Passover Should be Different This Year

Posted on April 11, 2024

By Rabbi Alex Freedman.

We all know from life experience that every big event requires preparation. Tests require study beforehand; interviews required practice in advance; and everyone who had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah knows that they can’t just wing it.

We all know this, and though it is tempting to procrastinate, we all accept this.

I want to suggest that the Passover Seder is truly an important event, and it too necessitates preparation. The Passover meal on the first and second nights is enjoyable because of who is around the table. But its purpose is essential: to have us imagine ourselves as slaves and then free people in the same night; and to identify who is not free in our own day, and what steps we must take to liberate them fully. This conversation does not merely happen on its own, but it must be prepared in advance. The Seder leader has a big responsibility in planning what parts of the Haggadah to lead, what pieces should be shared that are not part of the Haggadah script, and how to encourage others to participate in a meaningful way. This is not easy, and like other challenging tasks, advanced preparation raises the likelihood of success in the moment. 

“In every generation, each person must see themselves as if they personally left Egypt.” So we sing in the Haggadah. Almost always, we enter the Seder night from a place of freedom. We American Jews are fully free in our homeland, so the challenge is to imagine what it means to be not free. But this year is different because of October 7th. This year all Jews feel less secure than a year ago. This year there are over 100 Israelis who are being held hostage for the past 6 months and on Seder night. For the first time, it is frighteningly easy to feel we are not fully free. So long as the captives are being held in Gaza, none of us is fully free. 

In planning the Seder this year, please raise the topic of October 7th and the hostages. This year around the world, Jews are not slaves to Pharaoh, but we are not completely free, and we must talk about that. This year the place of the Jews in the world is different from every other year, and the Seder should reflect this: in conversation, in ritual (perhaps an empty chair for the hostages), and in tone. 

The Seder concludes “Next year in Jerusalem.” May all the hostages be returned home soon so Jerusalem and Jews worldwide can be whole once again.