Passover mandate: Let all who are hungry come and eat

by Lila Bricklin
Posted 4/18/24

On Monday night, Jews will begin celebrating Passover during the seder. I can’t help but think about my friend and his family who are living in a tent in Gaza.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Passover mandate: Let all who are hungry come and eat


On Monday night, Jews will begin celebrating Passover during the seder – a carefully choreographed ritual meal – when we are obligated to retell the Exodus narrative detailing our liberation from Egypt. In Hebrew, Egypt translates to Mitzrayim – a narrow place.  

We use food to tell the story. The most important is matzah, the unleavened bread of affliction. Before we tell the iconic story of Moses, when we fled the lash in hopes of finding our way to the Promised Land, we must heed the command “Let all who are hungry come and eat” to underscore the plight of those who are suffering and in need.

I can’t help but think about my friend Bassem who is living in a tent in Gaza with his wife and two young children. Bassem, a cardiac nurse from Gaza City has made his way south to Rafah, near the Egyptian border, where he hopes one day to cross over. He and his family are tired and hungry from more than six months on the run, dodging bombs and trying to secure sustenance. His kids desperately wanted to celebrate Eid, but that was not possible. Their only fun is swinging from torn electricity cables hanging in the streets of war-torn Gaza. Gaza is on the brink of famine.

Humanitarian aid is slow to arrive into the strip. Israeli protesters choke off deliveries. Red tape from the government and sniper attacks by the IDF and the dismantling of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) curtail aid. The premier World Central Kitchen, headed by renowned Chef José Andrés, halted operations after Israeli bombs killed seven of its workers in early April. 

On April 6, NBC news reported that, according to the United Nations, 224 humanitarian aid workers have died since the start of the war last October, mostly Palestinians. On February 29, Jewish Forward reported that, according to UNRWA, half a million Gazans are starving, and that all 2.3 million Gazans are experiencing acute food insecurity. 

President Biden pays lip service to the plight of these aid workers and innocent Gazans while continuing to fund the Israeli war machine. Benjamin Netanyahu strikes it up as the cost of war and plans to expand his “mighty vengeance” against Hamas by invading Rafah. Are Biden and Netanyahu modern-day Pharaohs, with hearts so entrenched that they can’t see the horrors that play out live on our electronic screens every day?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The opposite of freedom is not determinism, but hardness of heart. Freedom presupposes openness of heart, of mind, of eye and ear.” So, on Passover, especially on seder night, we must open our eyes and ears to those in need and pledge not to harden our hearts against humanity.

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free,” Emma Lazarus reminds us. But the road to freedom is never easy. In addition to physical liberation, mental preparation to break the cycle of psychological enslavement is necessary. For the Israelites fleeing Egypt, it took an entire generation to undo. Perhaps, a cogent suggestion that leadership must change in Israel, Palestine, and the United States – for only then can a future of true freedom, justice and peace be realized.

Rabbi Heschel also taught, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” 

So, I’m working with a group of strangers only connected via social media to raise funds for Bassem and his family. The major stumbling block, though, is to find a financial institution where it’s safe to send funds. It’s not like Bassem can just walk down the street to his local bank anymore and withdraw money or even access it electronically.  

It's an impossible situation and I’m trying to put my privilege to good use. The Haggadah (the book that guides us through the seder) tells us that in every generation, we must see ourselves as if we personally came out of Egypt. In that way, we learn not to treat others in ways that were contemptuous to us. Ultimately, we must work toward loving the stranger. 

The Hebrew word for Passover – Pesach – has been interpreted as Pe-Sach: “the mouth talks,” to underscore the importance of putting the meaning of Passover into words. But words are not enough. Only a combination of words and deeds is sufficient. And it is that blend that makes the seder night so powerful. Since Passover, above all, is the feast of the liberating deed.  

Lila Bricklin currently lives in Germantown but has also lived in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. She was employed at the Chestnut Hill Local in 1998-99 and then became a frequent contributor through 2018. She grew up in Wyndmoor and Laverock and always called the Hill home.