By Gilad Katz
In the Jewish calendar, there are a variety of different holidays that the Jewish people celebrate. Some are joyful while others are more somber. Passover is the only holiday that combines happiness and sadness together. It is a time when we reflect on the massacre and enslavement the Israelites endured in Egypt, while also celebrating the miraculous salvation our people experienced during their Exodus to freedom. Passover is a holiday of weeping and praising simultaneously.
For any human being, it is difficult to experience two opposite feelings at the same time. The question that this conflicting reality brings about is simple: How did we, the Jewish people, cope with such a contrast? How do we, year after year, celebrate Passover so naturally without mulling or debating on this issue?
My personal answer can be summarized in one word: FAMILY. From the days of Moses, as is written in the Torah, Passover has always been celebrated within the family. According to Jewish tradition, family is not only a safe haven for its members, but also a basic structure that empowers its members.
On a personal and very intimate note, I can say from my own experience that there is nothing more valuable than family. Unfortunately, my beloved father, Yaacov Katz, may his soul rest in peace, passed away suddenly just a few months ago. I was devastated. My father was the person who shaped and influenced me more than anyone else. His death flipped my world from top to bottom. The only true comfort I had, and continue to have, is my family: my wife, children, mother and siblings. It was painful for all of us, but together we became stronger and were able to ease our grief and emotions. I will always cherish my dad and he will always be tremendously missed. But, knowing that I have my family allows me to look on the bright side of life. It reminds me to continuously thank God for blessing me with my wonderful family, the light that guides my way, even through the darkest of times.
Passover is a time for each of us to recognize the importance of family. This is why we gather the family around the Seder table. To join together to honor our Jewish history and to remember that even during times of pain, change and uncertainty, we shall overcome with the support we receive from the ones we love.
Something I would like to note is that family can be more than just one’s relatives. Family is the community that you live in and the people that you cherish. Family is whomever we see and treat as family. During the last year, all humanity has experienced a worldwide pandemic that took the lives of almost 3 million human beings. It was an incredibly difficult and challenging year for all. As we speak, countries continue to fight this battle against COVID-19. We must all remember that each of us has a personal role and responsibility to play in defeating this virus together. And that is where the theme of family comes in. Just as we will do almost anything to protect our own family members, so too should we behave accordingly to our fellow neighbors and friends.
Family is what saved humanity, and family is what will continue to save humanity. This Passover is an excellent opportunity for us to go back to our most basic and fundamental beliefs and values. Our sages taught us that “kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” — all of Israel is responsible for each other. So this Passover, I believe it is the perfect time to strengthen ourselves and our families. Not just your relatives, but your communities, neighbors, friends and strangers. We are all family, and will overcome this TOGETHER, just as the Israelites triumphed over their enslavement in Egypt.
When talking about family, it goes without saying that we should forever remember that the Jewish State, Israel, will always be there for you and your loved ones. No difficulties nor disagreements will drive Israel away from you. No distance nor politics can divide us. We share the same past, future and destiny. This is forever our Jewish secret ingredient.
Allow me to end by quoting the immortal answer Ruth gave to her mother-in-law, Naomi, as is written in the Scroll of Ruth, Chapter 1, Verses 16-17: “But Ruth replied, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the LORD do to me if anything but death parts me from you.”
Happy Passover to all my dear friends and to the entire Jewish community here in the Southwest and throughout the world.
Gilad Katz is consul general of Israel to the Southwest.