“Let All Who are Hungry Come and Eat”: Passover, COVID-19, and Youth Leadership

This coming Saturday night, Jews throughout the world will celebrate the festival of Passover. The central theme of this widely observed holiday is liberation, as we retell the ancient tale of the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Needless to say, as we enter the second spring of the COVID-19 pandemic, mourning our losses, continuing to meet over Zoom, and slowly re-emerging from various states of lockdown, the subject of liberation feels particularly poignant.

The major ritual of Passover is the seder (“order”), an intentional multi-course meal that utilizes symbolic foods, songs, and storytelling to help create a dynamic intergenerational experience. Special emphasis is placed on engaging children and youth in this embodied exploration of our history, values, and hopes.

One signal moment in the seder is the chanting of Ha Lahma Anya in which we raise a sheet of matzah—“the bread of affliction”—and solemnly declare, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” While not a literal invitation to last-minute dinner guests, this recitation serves as a clarion call to help alleviate the physical and spiritual suffering that enslave far too many people.

This year, as I prepare for Passover, I am humbled and inspired by the courage and commitment of the members of the COVID-19 Boston Youth Commission. Sponsored by Hebrew College and the Center for Teen Empowerment, this semester-length initiative provides outstanding youth leaders from across Greater Boston the opportunity to develop sustained relationships and work together to address various pandemic-related issues. This includes societal ills that long predate the current health crisis and have been exacerbated by it.

In a recent session, we were honored to welcome a guest speaker from Children’s HealthWatch of Boston Medical Center. Our guest, a seasoned researcher, and educator, shared with us heartbreaking statistics about the increased number of children and families grappling with food insecurity in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth since the outbreak of the pandemic. As she moved through her PowerPoint presentation, the youth commissioners listened intently and engaged her in a sophisticated conversation about this contemporary plague, including the role of systemic racism and other foundational justice issues.

Impressive as it was to observe the commissioners engage in such a thoughtful discussion, it was even more impressive to witness several of them bravely share with the group their own struggles with food insecurity, and to hear the compassionate responses of their peers and mentors. For some of the youth, standing in ever-growing lines at local food banks is a regular part of their lives, while for others it is unimaginable. And so it is with several other issues we are exploring in this intentionally pluralistic program.

Simply put, there are not enough spaces for young people from different walks of life—racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc.— to engage in a focused and sustained exploration of their commonalities and differences, and to work together for constructive change. We need to foster such intersectional engagement and provide young people with more platforms to raise their voices and take meaningful action.

Having spent the previous six weeks developing relationships and learning about different facets of the pandemic, the youth are now preparing to implement small group projects. This will include a campaign to help educate more people about the painful realities of food insecurity in Greater Boston.

Passover is a time to reflect deeply on the struggle for human liberation and recommit ourselves to enacting change in the world. In participating in the seder and other spring rites and passages, let us join together across generations to envision a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

Rabbi Or Rose is the founding director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College. He can be reached at orose@hebrewcollege.edu.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

In order to keep this newfound sense of faith alive and to learn from the wisdom of others, I created a spiritual exercise out of interviewing people around the world about the role of faith changing their lives.
Imam Sultan was greatly revered for his compassionate outlook on life inspired by his faith. He was known for his interfaith leadership in the higher education field and as an active bridge builder.
The site was reported as having a significant number of Sikh employees, and the massacre has left the community shaken and in grief.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Ms. Moore discusses what an Office of Equity and Racial Justice does, how she and her team adapted amid the pandemic, and how religious communities are crucial partners for social change, connection, and healing.  
"We know that people of all faiths and philosophical traditions hold shared values that can serve as a foundation for a common life together."
How do we fight the evil and darkness during this time? No matter how small or how far we might be from the situation, we could use our voices to speak up, come to stand together as one human kind.
Musa writes an insightful analysis of data at the intersection of race and religion. He writes: "non-Black Americans seem to be fleeing religion because it’s become too political. Blacks seem to be leaving because it’s not political enough."
And as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, the currently closed museum is highlighting these artifacts tied to Islam on its website's blog.
In light of the urgent need for care within our families, communities, and movements, where can and should interfaith leaders fit in?
In the United States, our laws assure the separation of Church and State. So Sikh and Muslim kids growing up in public schools will never be taught that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Vaisakhi, which falls April 13 or 14 depending on which of two dueling calendars one follows, marks the day in 1699 when Sikhism took its current form.
The presentation focused on how chaplains and spiritual life professionals can discover and utilize meaningful data to demonstrate the value of their work in higher education.
Still, there were glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam’s holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.