Renewing Tradition—A Passover Message

Why is it that more Jews attend a Passover seder than any other Jewish ritual or service?

Maybe it’s because it is celebrated at home, around a table with family and friends.

Maybe it’s because questions play a central role in the seder, and everyone can ask questions.

Or maybe it’s the fact that in order to fulfill this mitzvah, each person must experience the seder so that they feel personally redeemed from Mitzrayim. Even though the seder, which means “order,” has a prescribed series of stages, we still bring ourselves to the table with whatever is going on in our lives at the moment. This mitzvah of self-realization is central, and so we are central. Mitzrayim is the name for Egypt, and its root is tzar, which means “narrow.” Each year, we are enjoined to discover how to break the confines of our own narrowness, to ask questions, and to discover ourselves in the continuing narrative of our people.

This way, we preserve and advance something venerable and sacred, making it new and resonant to each person, of every age.

Likewise, at our Federation communal table, we are placing ourselves and our history in the midst of a strategic and orderly process, seeking to make our work resonate better for our communities and our people, thereby strengthening our ability to thrive into the future. Through hundreds of surveys, interviews and discussions over the past few months, we asked key questions of our Federations, and we listened intently to the answers, comments, and additional questions presented to us. This is a crucial step in our ability to meet the needs of a contemporary Jewish community.

Our Federations both want and need a strong national system that is more responsive to today’s needs and trends, while remaining resolute in our timeless mission—and delivering on that mission. Each step we take towards creating that resonance only strengthens our sacred bonds of peoplehood—so desperately needed in today’s world. There is no other entity that matches the reach of our Federation system, caring for, educating, rescuing and absorbing millions of our fellow Jews of all ages and in all places on earth. A system with that kind of history and network remains crucial and relevant as it adjusts to the times in which we live.

We have already begun work on the three key areas mandated by the field: an ambitious signature initiative to engage the next generations of Jews; the collection, analysis, and sharing of Federation performance data with dashboards; and a re-orientation of services and supports with a special focus on talent. Overarching these areas is continued growth of our Israel and overseas work and deepening of our engagement with our community lay and professional leadership.

We would like to add our profound gratitude to all the professionals and volunteers who have helped us in this important task, which sets us on a path that will positively impact our ability to fulfill our mission for many years to come.

Our immersion in this process confirms the value of asking questions—just like our seder. This is not a one-time phenomenon; by asking questions again and again, we grow wiser ... and stronger.

Our tradition—whether at the seder table or in our Federations—recognizes the importance of the individual connection to the task at hand. It can’t lead us to better things if we can’t relate to it, if it leaves us uninspired or feeling left out. Rather, the brilliance of our sages in forcing us to face our times through the prism of our heritage enhances our ability to engage—personally—in our people’s journey.

At this sacred time of Passover, we wish you the joy and warmth of gathering with loved ones and retelling the Master Story of our people, a story that especially inspires and endures when we add new voices each year.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Mark Wilf is Chair, JFNA Board of Trustees. Jerry Silverman is President & CEO of JFNA.