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A Prayer for Peace in Ukraine and Beyond
Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi
We come before you, Adonai, praying for peace.
A new war has begun, and thousands of innocent people are dying…
We pray for the strength and courage of the few
faced with the ruthless power of the many.
We stand together with our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine,
the birthplace of so many of our ancestors,
a place where the Jewish people has known both light and darkness.
We pray for a quick end to the raging conflict and the senseless bloodshed.
May our people remember that wherever a Jew is in danger or hurt,
we all feel that danger and pain as well.
As they seek cover from the life-threatening missiles
and fire falling from the sky, as they help the elderly
and hug their children tightly, and defend their homeland,
we pray that they can maintain hope that a Sukkat Shalom–
a canopy of blessing and peace–
will soon emerge above them.
May all the innocent people in the Ukraine and throughout the region
know that we are with them. Even from afar, we hear their cries.
May they know that we will continue to advocate for peace among nations
and that we will strengthen our commitment to aid and protect
every human being.
May the Source of All Life protect all of humanity from violence.
May the Source of Peace bring wisdom to their leaders
and bring a sense of tranquility, shalvah, to the people of the region
and peace to all who are endangered.
During this seder, and in the days ahead, let us not forget those currently facing war and violence in Ukraine. Let us open our hearts and minds and continue to support their quest for freedom.
What is a superhero anyway? Someone who has the power of invisibility? The ability to fly? To read minds? To interpret something incomprehensible? Or is it someone who leads by example, or does things a little differently, a little unexpectedly, a little bit more selflessly than the rest of us do?
This year many of us returned to the theater to witness fictionalized heroism, as our superpowered surrogates found strength, experienced loss and chose self-sacrifice for the greater good. Off-screen, we watched a flood of attention and people-power flow toward the borders of Ukraine, trying to rescue people from dire circumstances. We were reminded that, not all heroes wear capes. Or spandex. Or uniforms. They wander through deserts, gallop on horses, drive rescue vans, organize convoys of supplies. They see to their own health and to the well-being of those around them. They create art and music that speaks justice into the world and connects us with our emotions. Many walk the same streets as we do, making similar choices, with impacts both public and private.
Heroes know they have power and use it for good. With great power comes great responsibility. With hands outstretched to rescue the plagued, the indigent and tempest-tossed; providing shelter for the vulnerable, silent and unsung heroes jumped into the breach to free those who were bound or in narrow straits. Some of us will accept the mantle of leadership, relinquishing our own goals and desires to be agents of liberation. Heroes and superheroes teach us about selflessness and democracy, that even if our speech isn’t perfect, someone has to lead, even if they sometimes resent the burden.
What makes a superhero? Who are our favorite wielders of smarts and swords, enlightened sapience and lightsabers?
Why are we riveted to their stories? What do we expect from them?
Why might we embrace the idea of a pan-religious philosophy that includes righteous violence and connections to the common flow of universal energy? How do we frame the drive to go where no others have gone before?
How do these new stories intersect with our classic texts and common history? Are they even new at all?
This is the work of the seder, this year and every year. It can be serious, traditional, contemporary and even fun.
So as you assemble your league of justice-seekers around your table and distribute your Haggadot to guide you through the Seder, may you live long and Pesach, and may the four questions be with you.
[Image source: GIPHY]
Winter is Over
by Daniel Prakhabmek
Winter is over, the cold is gone,
The universe is filled with joy.
The southerly winds slowly blow
Repairing a gloomy soul.
Young sun, spring sun,
Shining in the sky,
Casting a wealth of light on the Earth,
The naked trees,
Are awakened again,
The noisy city,
Dons a new face.
Everything is joyful, alive, and glowing,
The spirit of spring washes over all
Happy are the tall buildings,
Crowned by high mountains.
Still, there remains a glassy film of ice,
Over the swamps, over the streams,
Still, the trees are bare,
The leaves not yet budded.
The birds not yet returned,
Singing their joyful songs,
But spring is already felt,
In every corner and square.
The sky has changed
The sea foam is different,
And spring is already seeping,
Into the depths of the soul.
This is not the world,
This is not as the heights of Creation,
Everything is alive, fresh, happy
Everything returns to life!
Take the middle matzah of the three on your Seder plate. Break it into two pieces. Wrap the larger piece, the Afikoman, in a napkin to be hidden later. As you hold up the remaining smaller piece, read these words together:
We now hold up this broken matzah, which so clearly can never be repaired. We eat the smaller part while the larger half remains out of sight and out of reach for now. We begin by eating this bread of affliction and, then, only after we have relived the journey through slavery and the exodus from Egypt, do we eat the Afikoman, the bread of our liberation. We see that liberation can come from imperfection and fragmentation. Every day, refugees across the globe experience the consequences of having their lives ruptured, and, yet, they find ways to pick up the pieces and forge a new, if imperfect, path forward.
This Passover, I’m placing a small dish of sunflower seeds on my seder plate to show my solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine, and have become a potent symbol of resistance to the recent Russian military invasion. They have been grown in Ukraine since the 18th Century and have been associated with Ukrainian national identity since the early 19th Century. They symbolize unity, life and well-being, and can be seen across the countryside.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, sunflowers were widely grown in the area to help remove radiation contaminants from the soil. And in 1996, sunflowers were planted in celebration of Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament.
Two of my great-grandparents were born in western Ukraine, in what was then known as the Pale of Settlement. Conjured in stories as the family patriarch, my Hebrew name (Moriah) is in memory of my great-grandfather, Max (Mordechai). He was born in 1886 in Husyatyn and emigrated to the Boston area in the early 1900s.
In 2005, I made the journey to the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa as part of a community exchange trip for my graduate studies. At the time, I did not feel a strong connection to this area as the land of my ancestors. But the foreignness of the city was erased by the friendliness of the people we met. From orphanages to JCCs to the apartments of homebound elderly, everyone’s love of their city and their community overflowed.
Though we did not remain in touch, I can easily imagine these people embodying the resistance to an authoritarian ruler that is at the core of the Passover story. I can picture them on the famous Potemkin Steps on the coast of the Black Sea. In their hands are sunflower seeds.
And so, with a dish of these powerful seeds on my seder table, I will say a blessing of peace and protection for them, for my great-grandparents and for all the brave people of Ukraine.
Rebecca Missel is the Director of Partnerships and Content at Haggadot.com
This is not only the bread of our affliction, but also the lechem oni, the bread of those in dire need.
It's called that because of its purposeful lack of ingredients — only unleavened flour and water, nothing to make it rise, and it must be baked in haste — the food of those with nothing, those who've left everything, in desperate need of a miracle.
It is the bread we took with us when we rushed out of Egypt to pursue our destiny and our peoplehood — to pursue life.
Our Jewish family in Ukraine and those who are fleeing the country share in a single concern — life. A life of safety, of freedom, and of opportunity for better days.
As we hold them close to our hearts tonight, and remember them here at our seder tables, let us do all we can to support and comfort them — in cities under bombardment and at the borders swelling with their numbers — and to build a future whose course we shape with every act of kindness.
We do this because all Jews are responsible for one another, embodying the mighty hand and outstretched arm that has delivered our people throughout time.
Чим ця ніч відрізняється від усіх інших ночей?
Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
В інші ночі ми їможемо їсти і хамец, і мацу. Чому в цю ніч - лише мацу?
Sheb’chol haleilot anu ochlin chametz umatzah, halailah hazeh, kuloh matzah.
On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah. Tonight we only eat matzah.
В інші ночі ми можемо їсти будь-які овочі. Чому в цю ніч - лише марор?
Sheb’chol haleilot anu ochlin sh’ar y’rakot, halailah hazeh, maror
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight we eat bitter herbs.
Чому в інші ночі ми не вмочуємо їжу, а в цю ніч робимо це двічі?
Sheb’chol haleilot ein anu matbilin afilu pa’am echat; halailah hazeh, sh’tei f’amim.
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time. Tonight we do it twice.
Чому в інші ночі ми можемо їсти і сидячи прямо, і спершись, а в цю ніч ми всі спираємось?
Sheb’chol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin; halailah hazeh, kulanu m’subin
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining. Tonight we recline.
by Sarah Aspel
How awful is winter’s great cold
How beautiful spring’s pleasant winds,
The trees, have you seen, how beautiful they are in the spring,
In winter, they stood, mourning and asleep,
And here, spring is come, they have woken, risen,
They begin to look around, around,
-“Thank God, winter is over!”
The trees begin to whisper among themselves
-“Now we will grow with the coming of spring!”
The Mishnah tells us that in every generation a person must view themselves as though they personally left Egypt. This directive is especially important this year – when we’re seeing the largest number of refugees in Europe since World War II – refugees whose travels are narrated in such detail on social media and by journalists.
Moving Traditions invites you to explore the power of narratives this year by asking the following questions at your Seder, making sure that young people are part of the conversation:
- The phrase “never again” has recently appeared again and again across the internet, in connection with the war in Ukraine. What is happening in Ukraine is not the Holocaust as nothing can compare. But at a time when there will soon be no more Holocaust survivors and it will become the next generation’s responsibility to carry the narratives forward, what do you think never again means in practice?
- What stories about survival, escape, discrimination, or oppression do you feel it is your responsibility to tell? What stories do you see as your responsibility to pass down to the next generation? Why are these stories important?
- How, if at all, might social media affect the way we tell these stories? What stories, and also whose stories, do you choose to share (or reshare) on social media? How do you make these choices?
By Serhiy Zhadan
Translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
Take only what is most important. Take the letters.
Take only what you can carry.
Take the icons and the embroidery, take the silver,
Take the wooden crucifix and the golden replicas.
Take some bread, the vegetables from the garden, then leave.
We will never return again.
We will never see our city again.
Take the letters, all of them, every last piece of bad news.
We will never see our corner store again.
We will never drink from that dry well again.
We will never see familiar faces again.
We are refugees. We’ll run all night.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.
no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet, hot blood in your belly.
it's not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did - you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow, each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back. you have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with go home blacks, refugees dirty immigrants, asylum seekers sucking our country dry of milk, dark, with their hands out smell strange, savage - look what they've done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
for now, forget about pride your survival is more important. i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to leave what you could not behind, even if it was human. no one leaves home until home is a damp voice in your ear saying leave, run now, i don't know what i've become.
Sunflowers On Your Table is an invitation to express freedom, solidarity and hope this April.
Art by Anna Abramzon Studio and Design by Hillel Smith
We drink four cups for four promises fulfilled.
The first cup as God said, “I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians.”
The second as God said, “And I will deliver you from their bondage.”
The third as God said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.”
The fourth because God said, “I will take you to be My People.”
We know, though, that all are not yet free. As we welcome Elijah the Prophet into our homes, we offer a fifth cup, a cup not yet consumed.
A fifth cup for the 60 million refugees and displaced people around the world still waiting to be free— from the refugee camps in Chad to the cities and towns of Ukraine, for the Syrian refugees still waiting to be delivered from the hands of tyrants, for the thousands of asylum seekers in the United States still waiting in detention for redemption to come, for all those who yearn to be taken in not as strangers but as fellow human beings.
This Passover, let us walk in the footsteps of the One who delivered us from bondage. When we rise from our Seder tables, may we be emboldened to take action on behalf of the world’s refugees, hastening Elijah’s arrival as we speak out on behalf of those who are not yet free.
As we celebrate our liberation from bondage, we remember that security and safety are just out of reach for many of us. We pray especially for the people of Ukraine.
Sovereign of the Universe
Who hearkens to our prayers.
We stand before You in solidarity
with all who are enduring the darkness of human conflict in Ukraine.
May You protect all the innocent
at this moment of great peril for them,
for Europe and the world.
Bring fortitude to the vulnerable,
resilience to the insecure
and strength to those who live in fear.
Incline the hearts of national leaders towards peace and reconciliation
and bless them with the wisdom, vision and perseverance needed
to end this war and restore peace to the region.
strengthen the hands of those who pursue peace, not war.
Bring harmony where there is hostility;
relief where there is pain and hope where there is despair.
May the One who makes peace in high places
Make peace for all on earth.
May this be your will,
And let us say Amen.
SUNFLOWERS By Natalia Senchenko
Sunflowers are blooming, sunflowers
in Ukraine, in the boundless fields…
From them stem calm and sunlight
In our homeland, in our heartbeats….
In the spring thick little black grains
Will fall on soft wet soil;
And on strong stems, fused under sun
Will flower baskets of honey blossom….
In each stem - might and spirit unbreakable
Grow under the sun in splendor and shine….
For good, wealth, and for joy
From flowers will ripen sapid grains….
Our flower is the blossom of sunshine
In the field of clear sky blue
A sign of peace, unity, prosperity
A sign of the might of Ukrainian land….
Sunflowers are blooming, sunflowers
in Ukraine, in the boundless fields
From them stem calm and sunlight
In our homeland, in our heartbeats.
Vinnytsia, 28 March 2022
Natalia Senchenko is a Ukrainian songwriter, published poet, social activist, and trained medical doctor based in her hometown of Vinnytsia.
Translated by Alex Yakubson with Shawn Landres for @sunflowersonyourtable
Art by Anna Abramzon Studio
A Prayer of Peace for the People of Ukraine
by Rabbi Naomi Levy
God, Our hearts are with all the people of Ukraine,
Its president, Volodymyr Zelensky,
And with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Ukraine
Who crouch in fear
As the sound of sirens and bombs pierces the air.
Synagogues once filled with songs of celebration
Have become makeshift shelters.
Echos of the Holocaust reverberate,
The memory of the one and a half million
Martyred Ukrainian Jews.
God, we pray that the panic in the streets of Ukraine
Will give way to the sound of children playing,
And the sound of sirens will give way to songs of hope.
We pray that the world community will unite
And cause the Russian army to retreat.
We pray for no more violence
And we pray that diplomacy
Will be the path to peace.
Hear our prayers, God,
Hear the prayers of the mothers and fathers,
the prayers of the children
longing for safety.
God, our Shelter,
Let it rain down from the heavens like a mighty storm.
Let it wash away all hatred and bloodshed.
Peace, God. Please, God. Amen.
When I grew up in Ukraine in the city of Oonetsk, there were people of various nationalities living there.
Their 10 certificates had the word 'Russian,' 'Ukraine,' 'Georgian,' 'Kozaki,' it wasn't that important and there wasn't much of a difference. One thing was important - if it had the word 'Jewish' written on it, that would be as if you had some disease.
We knew nothing about Judaism, except antisemitism and hatred towards us.
That's why no one tried to replace the word 'Russian' or the word 'Ukraine,' in order to get accepted to the university. But if it you had the word 'Jewish' on your 10 papers and you could manage to change that, your chance of getting accepted was so much higher.
I was reminded of this while watching this week how thousands of people are standing at the borders, trying to escape the tragedy in Ukraine. They stand there day and night, and there's only one word today that can help them get out: "Jewish." If you are a Jew - there are Jews outside who care for you, there is someone on the other side of the border looking for you, your chance of getting out is so much higher.
The world I knew has been turned upside down. When I was a child 'Jewish' was an extraordinary bad word, no one was jealous of us! Today at the border of Ukraine, 'Jewish' is an extraordinary word for good, it describes people who have somewhere to go and there's an entire nation - their family, waiting for them outside.