For Jews around the world, tonight is the first night of Passover, a holiday of transcendent deliverance and gratitude, which tells a story of ten plagues and celebrates a liberation from oppression and slavery. A central element of the Passover holiday is the traditional “Four Questions,” which, from the perspective of a child, ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In this year of plague, in this season of social isolation, and in this, New York’s 17th Congressional District, we have already asked that same simple question many times as we navigate difficult departures from comfortable routines.
As with all difficult seasons, this too shall pass. And when it does, I am hopeful we will keep close the spirit of inclusion and the lessons of leadership and empowerment that we are learning each day.
Until then, I wish all those celebrating a happy holiday, and offer the words of my favorite writer, Primo Levi, a chemist and brilliant man of letters who survived Auschwitz and left a literary legacy that included the following Passover Poem:
Tell me: how is this night different
From all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover
Different from other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide
So the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew;
Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us;
Let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction,
The Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences
In which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed,
Evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame,
Next year in virtue and in justice.
With you in spirit,