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Passover amid Israel-Hamas war brings mixture of anguish and hope, CT rabbi says

Ultra-Orthodox Jews burn leavened items during the Biur Chametz ritual in Jerusalem's Mea Sharim district on April 22, 2024, during the final preparations before the start of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday.
Ronaldo Schemidt
/
AFP / Getty
Ultra-Orthodox Jews burn leavened items during the Biur Chametz ritual in Jerusalem's Mea Sharim district on April 22, 2024, during the final preparations before the start of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday.

Passover 2024 has begun. The weeklong Jewish celebration commemorates the biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. This year, Passover occurs against the turbulent backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Rabbi Debra Cantor, the Spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Tikvoh-Sholom in Bloomfield, said the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,400 in Israel and bred the current Israel-Hamas war in Gaza weighs on the minds of Jews everywhere as the holiday begins.

“We are just filled with anguish — anguish about the hostages, about the fact that the war seems endless, anguish about what can possibly happen after this, anguish about the suffering in Gaza,” Cantor said. “At the beginning of the Seder, there's a famous line, ‘all who are hungry, come and eat.’ For this year, reading that, I'm thinking about the people in Gaza, there's so much pain.”

Polls indicate that while Cantor is not alone in that type of sentiment, there’s a large group in her community who feel otherwise. She said that type of disagreement is likely to manifest at Seder tables this Passover.

“Jews are not just a religion. We're a family,” Cantor said. “When you have a family, there’s a lot of disagreement and it's passionate. It's paradoxical, I think, that, oh, we have so many arguments about so many things. And, we feel this closeness with each other in this pain and in this moment. It's like a regular family.”

Despite the current level of anxiety and disagreement within the Jewish community, Cantor encouraged Jews everywhere to remember the spirit of holiday.

“It's Passover, and we are also going to celebrate that we're here and that there's hope for the future, just as we have always celebrated that,” Cantor said. “Despite differences and all kinds of opinions, and despite all of our worries, There's hope. There is hope.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted a line at the beginning of the Seder. The correct quote reads, "All who are hungry, come and eat." We apologize for the error.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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