We begin Pesach this evening in a frankly troubled time. Russia’s war on Ukraine is bringing destruction and human suffering on a vast scale, and doing it right before the eyes of the entire world. Our beloved Israel is experiencing a wave of deadly terrorism and unrest. And we are watching the developments in Iran, China and other corners of the globe with real concern for what the future holds.
At the same time, we are encouraged by the efforts of the Western countries, led by the United States and NATO, to support the government and people of Ukraine in their heroic resistance to Russian aggression. We see the humanitarian efforts of people around the world to address the suffering of the Ukrainians. And we are reassured by the resilience, strength and optimism of Israeli society.
As leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are both inspired and humbled by the response of our communities to the Ukrainian crisis and to the needs of the Jewish people in Israel and around the world. As we enter Pesach, Jewish Federations have raised and committed over $50M in emergency support since the war in Ukraine was launched on February 24th. This support, provided to nearly thirty-five different organization operating in the region, comes on top of our annual, core support for the principal Jewish relief and humanitarian organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Together, our annual and emergency funding has enabled a comprehensive response to the needs of refugees, to the humanitarian relief of those who remain in Ukraine, and to the massive effort to bring as many of our brothers and sisters to Israel as we possibly can, while we continue our efforts to protect the families of Ethiopian olim who remain in Ethiopia and bring them to Israel, and support the victims of terror in Israel. Even writing this list of commitments makes us overwhelmed by our communities’ organizational skills and dedicated leadership, not to mention the values and priorities that drive this work.
This is of course not the first time our Jewish Federation system has responded to multiple crises at once, nor will it be the last. But neither should we take this for granted. As we sit down to the Pesach Seder, we are reminded of how the Torah describes the frightful night when G-d brought the final plague on the Egyptians. G-d instructed the Israelites to guard their homes through the night and prepare to leave Egypt with great haste when Pharaoh, as G-d knew he would, finally allows them to do so. The Torah calls this night “leil shimurim,” “a night of watchfulness,” from the Hebrew word shamor, which means “to guard.”
As always, the Torah makes clear that it is speaking not only of what the Jews should do on that one fateful evening, but also of the responsibility of “l’chol b’nai yisrael l’dorotom” – the responsibility of “all the people of Israel for all generations.”
As we gather our families and friends together to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we do so with the full knowledge that our generation is indeed keeping watch over the Jewish people, precisely as we were commanded to do millennia ago.
We wish you a Chag sameach v’kasher, a happy and kosher Pesach.
Am yisrael chai.
Mark Wilf is Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America. Eric Fingerhut is President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.