April 13th, 2022 — Rabbinic Intern, Sammy Kanter
This Pesah, I am thinking of Shirat Hayam, the progressive Jewish community in Odesa, Ukraine. Myself and IKARite Julia Berg had the opportunity in 2019 to help them put together a Pesah weekend retreat, get to know Jews of all ages in Odesa, and explore the rich Jewish history and vibrant Jewish revitalization in the town. The most inspiring part of the trip was seeing the passion and excitement by this community for rediscovering their Judaism. After living for so many years without the ability to practice religion, Ukraine’s Jews are reconnecting to their roots in beautiful ways. For this community, I will always remember talking to them about what the seder meant for their stories. Here are people that felt oppression and tyranny in ways most of us in America cannot even imagine, and in 2019, they were free to sit around a Pesah table and fully express their Judaism. That very weekend was when Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president, and the hotel where we held seder was also a polling place. I felt the meaning of Pesah in ways I couldn’t ever imagine, seeing Jews vote (for a Jew) in a land where they had been oppressed for so long. That hope feels so far off now, and my heart breaks thinking of where and how my friends in Odesa are for Pesah this year. I hope you consider supporting the Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) work in Ukraine. Not only has JDC been on the frontlines of supporting Jews for decades in the former Soviet Union, but they are currently helping to resettle refugees, connect and provide food for isolated seniors who cannot leave Ukraine, and supporting seders in refugee camps throughout Europe. May our call for “Next Year in Jerusalem” at the end of the seder inspire all those in and around Ukraine to hold out hope for the ability to taste that freedom again soon in the days ahead.