Dear friends,

As we come to the end of Pesach for another year, I am put in mind of the Internet meme that circulates numerous times every year. “Definition of every Jewish Holiday: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” While not universally true, it’s close enough that it has the ring of truth. Many of our holidays and observances represent our liberation from bondage, threats and national trauma.

Pesach is, of course, the ultimate liberation holiday. Our people became whom we became largely through the mechanism of bondage and freedom; Through race memory and reminders through the answers to the Four Questions, we remember that series of events that combined horrible trauma with joyous emergence. 
With the end of Pesach, we immediately come into another week of such reminders and observances. Yom HaShoah is next week. In the week that follows, we then come into Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Though close in time, we rarely understand this series of events in the same way that we understand Pesach. Let me share with you a story.

We sent both of our children, Jacob and Laya, on the March of the Living, each in turn (editorial comment – a life-changing and important experience for all of our teenagers, once it begins to run again). Jacob was first. While he was on the trip, he called me just after the group had visited the former killing camp at Majdanek. The camp appears fully intact and looks like it could be up and running again in 24 hours. In the camp, there is a monument, essentially a giant urn, containing the ashes of many of the victims. On the front of the monument are steps.

Here is what he told me: After the kids had finished touring the camp, many of them gathered on the steps of the monument. Many were shaken and crying. Then, what he said to me was essentially this: “Dad, it was like a movie. A couple of kids stood up and started singing 'Am Yisrael Chai' (the people of Israel live). Then one by one, all of the kids stood up and sang it, with tears streaming down their faces.” And then he told me that when he stepped on the bus to leave, he was happy “because we won, because we were there.”

After a week in Poland visiting the remnants of Jewish communities and the camps that destroyed them, the kids are taken for a week in Israel. They arrive in time for both Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers, and victims of terrorism) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). The first, terribly sad, and the entire nation comes to a stop (including traffic) when the sirens blare and the second, a giant party. No one celebrates independence quite like the Israelis.
In two weeks those kids experience, the trauma, the sacrifice and liberation of our people.

While as I said, Pesach was a formative moment in the history of our people, so too are the series of events that lead to these three observances. The horrible trauma inflicted on victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the losses that our people have suffered to fulfill the promise of the Seder – “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and the sheer joy over the re-establishment of a Jewish home in Eretz Yisrael for the first time in two thousand years.

Join us, as our local and national communities observe these three incredibly important days in Jewish history We all observe Pesach, in one way or the other. These days are the modern Pesach. They are and will continue to be, as formative a national experience as are the events of thousands of years ago.

As the last days of matzah come to an end, and we head back into Yomim Tovim, my family and I wish you and your families a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Pesach Sameach, and may we all celebrate our national liberation in health and happiness.

Michael Polowin
Chair of the Board of Directors
Jewish Federation of Ottawa
Look for the next edition of the
Ottawa Jewish E-Bulletin, April 13.