07 April 2023

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Patrick Comerford

These eight days mark the Jewish holiday of Passover, which is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th until the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover began this year on Wednesday evening, 5 April 2023 and continues until 13 April 2023.

Passover or Pesach is the most celebrated of all the Jewish holidays. regardless of religious observance. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Pesach is marked by avoiding leaven, and the highlight of the holiday is the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

During many decades of slavery in Egypt, the pharaohs subjected the Israelites to back-breaking labour and unbearable horrors. God saw their distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me’ (Exodus 8: 1; 9: 1).

Despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed God’s command. But his resistance was broken by ten plagues, culminating in the death of the first-born. Pharaoh virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry that the bread they baked as provisions for the exodus did not have time to rise.

On that night, 600,000 adult males, and many more women and children, left Egypt and began the trek to Mount Sinai, to religious freedom and to freedom as a people.

Nine days ago, on 29 March, the Jewish American journalist Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal was arrested by Russia’s security services on false charges and he faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Evan (31), is the American-son of Soviet-born Jewish exiles who settled in New Jersey,and the grandson of a Ukrainian Jewish Holocaust survivor. He is spending this Passover locked up in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison, denied all contact with the outside world.

When Evan’s mother Ella was 22, she fled the Soviet Union using Israeli documents. She was whisked across the Iron Curtain by her own mother, a Ukrainian nurse and Holocaust survivor who would weep when she talked about the survivors of extermination camps she treated at a Polish military hospital at the end of World War II. Before fleeing Russia, they heard rumours that Soviet Jews were about to be deported to Siberia.

Evan’s father, Mikhail, also left the Soviet Union as part of the same wave of Jewish migration. The couple met in Detroit then moved to New Jersey where Evan and his elder sister Dusya grew up.

The Wall Street Journal asked Jews around the world to raise awareness of Evan’s plight this week by setting a place for Evan at their Seder table and sharing a picture along with the hashtags #FreeEvan and #IStandWithEvan.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the senior rabbi at Central Synagogue in New York, announced on her Facebook page this week that she was leaving an empty chair at her Seder for Evan, and she urged others to do the same.

She wrote: ‘At our festival of freedom, may we remember those for whom the promise of freedom remains unfulfilled. Let us raise up God’s demand for justice as our own: “Let my people go”.’

To learn more about Evan, read this article from the Wall Street Journal: ‘Evan Gershkovich Loved Russia, the Country That Turned on Him.’

חַג פֵּסַח שַׂמֵחַ Chag Pesach Sameach

Shabbat Shalom


Anonymous said...

Let them go back with their families in peace. Shalom

Anonymous said...

Give them freedom and peace. Shalom