Special Guest Presentation by Dr. Itzhak Brook:
The Yom Kippur War and the Role of Hadassah Medical Organization
A Seder In Simferopol
By Cindy Skrzycki
I was at a table of 20 or so family and friends for the first night of Passover. There were the traditional, beloved prayers, blessings and thanks for liberation. The bitter and the sweet. The communal Seder. I am no stranger to this: It was probably my 35th year at a Seder table.
My daughter, a first-year rabbinic student, is in Crimea where she is a stranger and can’t communicate without a translator. But, with another Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion classmate, she helped conduct and Seders for Jewish communities in Crimea. Called the Pesach Project, students from HUC studying in Israel annually raise money for this trip and fan out to Belarus, Ukraine and Crimea. This year, after a class visit to Lithuania, she headed to Simferopol, Yevpatoria, Kerch and Sevastopol.
There were multiple Seders and much of a day was spent planting a tree alongside a highway and memorial where Jews faced mass execution. They walked the field, trying to imagine the horror that lay below their feet. There was a meeting with the Russian Jewish Youth Congress in Simferopol, a place where there are no rabbis. With translators, they will led educational programs and learned a new culture, seeing the remnants of life in the former Soviet Union.
That’s what is on the official schedule but some of the real learning has already taken place--for my daughter, the aspiring rabbi, and for me, her Catholic mother.
In one very broken up conversation with my daughter, she talked about experiencing the emptiness of standing in a shell of an old synagogue in Lithuania. The walls were peeling; dust and mildew prevailed in a building more than 100 years old that could tell stories.
Worlds apart, yet the same prayers, same plagues, same questions.
As the Catholic in the family, I have taken the Passover holiday for what it is—an intense, quick escape from Egyptian masters who used Jews for slaves. Christians note the meal but never celebrate it. There is deliberation about whether this is Jesus keeping Passover in Jerusalem.
Whatever you believe, the most remarkable thing about this time is the lengths to which Jews will go to have everyone at the Seder table—even non-Jews. President Obama’s Seder table in the White House was celebrated national news.
Many Christians who get invited to a Seder wonder at the complexity and length of this meal and why matzot suddenly becomes the center of the Jewish diet.
It’s not so different in Crimea. They try to get everyone to come to the table and the Jewish community there considers the visitors role models. They want help from the visiting students and they want to show that women can be rabbis and that rabbis are needed.
The visit comes as welcome relief to the Jews in Simferopol who don’t have a synagogue and rely on a young woman of 25 to handle questions about tradition and ritual. She's learning what it means to be a rabbi, and finding it isn't a bowl of charoset, the apple, walnut and wine concoction scarfed up at Passover.
But when the students completed visits to the the Holocaust memorials, Orthodox Shabbat services, and the preservation of a shtetl and synagogues that were spared, they were ready to celebrate multiple times the meal that marks freedom. What better place to proclaim this?
The bitter herbs had a bit more of an edge this year, remembering Jews who could not pray from the Haggadah and ask the Four Questions under Soviet oppression. Now as a progressive Jewish culture begins to flower in those places, the prayers, food and open community celebrating liberation seems sweeter for the students and the communities they visited.
So, as I sat as a guest in an observant home, I thought about how this holiday should be marked in Crimea, as everywhere else: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”
For this group of student rabbis, cantors and educators, next year is not likely to be in Crimea. This learning and service excursion might, however, give another meaning to Passover in that the story of liberation is read differently in every part of the world where Jews live.
-Cindy Skrzycki, a former Washington Post columnist, is senior lecturer in the English Department of the University of Pittsburgh.
Hadassah Author Series Features Joanna Rakoff, Author of "My Salinger Year"
Hadassah Northeast hosted a 2016 Author Series presentation featuring the novel, "My Salinger Year" with author Joanna Rakoff on Thursday, April 14. After leaving graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a poet, Rakoff took a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Keenly observed and irresistibly funny, "My Salinger Year" is a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties.
During her presentation, Rakoff discussed how a long weekend of reading all of Salinger’s books was a turning point in her life. Salinger’s books “made me grow up and become less judgmental . . . I was humbled and more open to all sorts of literature.”
Featured from left to right in the photograph are Hadassah Boston President Varda E. Farber, Author Joanna Rakoff, and Hadassah Northern New England President Rhonda Saunders.
The forum which the Jewish Journal recently held to invite feedback from the community was terrific...seeing the paper expand its horizon from local news to things making headlines near and afar is refreshing!
Harvard Law School Wins National Law School Trial Competition
The Harvard Law School Mock Trial team is this year’s winner of the 41st National Law School Trial Competition following a three-day competition between 28 teams from 14 regions of the nation in Dallas, Texas.
It is only the second time HLS has taken away first prize in the annual competition since its founding in 1975 by the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA).
Led by Amanda Mundell and Joseph Resnek’ 11, founders of the HLS Mock Trial Association, HLS was the favorite of 25 members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, who served as judges and jurors for the competition.
Federal Judge Michael Smith presided.
HLS defeated Cal Western Law School in the final round. In doing so, Mundell and Resnek have returned the traveling trophy to HLS for the first time in 40 years.
They also won a $10,000 prize.
The HLS team was coached by John J. Snidow’ 09. Snidow, a Yale Law School graduate, won the competition in 2014. He was also the captain of the Harvard Mock Trial Team in 2008.
Mundell is a finalist in this year’s Ames Moot Court Competition.
Resnek will be attending Cambridge University Law School in England next year where he will earn an international law degree. His father, Joshua Resnek, is the publisher of the Jewish Journal.
Brandeis University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna will discuss his book entitled Lincoln and the Jews on Monday evening, April 11th at 7 p.m at the Swampscott Public Library . One hundred and fifty years after Abraham Lincoln’s death, the full story of his extraordinary relationship with Jews is told here for the first time. Sarna, a Professor of American Jewish History, and Benjamin Shapell, founder of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, have written a book that uncovers the complex relationships between Lincoln and the Jews of his era. Lincoln and the Jews: A History is comprised of the author’s revelatory discoveries, accompanied by the manuscripts and photographs that illuminate the most notable occasions.