What is the single most important thing we can have at our Passover table?
My father would argue that it is my late Bubbe’s Wine Cake. When I was little, I might have said that it was the maror to go on top of the gefilte fish. A gardener might focus on the karpas, with its greenery and symbols of spring. My rabbinic colleagues might say it is the Matzah.
But, upon reflection, the answer is hidden within the seder itself: from the Four Questions to the Four Children’s teaching, V’higad’ta L’Vincha וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ “Tell your children” makes the answer clear. The most important thing we can include at our Pesach seder is the younger generation, the children and young adults who are perpetually marching towards an idea of a Promised Land.
Earlier this week, I had the chance to learn from Brazil’s Student Rabbi Andrea Kulikovsky. She emphasized Miriam the Prophetess’s role in our people’s redemption, especially through a story from the Talmud where Miriam places her hopes for the Jewish people upon the children.
While many of us live in different countries from our parents and children, all of us, as a movement, invest in the next generation through our involvement in the World Union and our synagogues and communities. Though some of the branches have been in existence for longer, forty years ago, the World Union launched its youth movement, Noar Tzioni Reformi נוער ציוני רפורמי Netzer.
This past Shabbat, in an amazing, first-ever event, Progressive young adults from our movement who are spending time in Israel gathered together for a Shabbat in Jaffa, and spoke about the meaning of Pesach – the insights of which contributed to the first Netzer Haggadah Supplement you can find here, with readings for your Passover table.
As we know, the Passover seder takes us on a journey from avdut עבדות slavery to heyrut חירות freedom. But as our children remind us, there are many who still feel like they are captive in this world, and we need to help them march along a path to happiness – We cannot end with heyrut חירות freedom, but rather with achrayut אחריות responsibility.
This is the message that appears again and again in Netzer Haggadah Supplement, with additional essays by graduates (borgim) of Netzer who are now serving as rabbis in our communities.
- Sitting with Netzer teens in South Africa last week, Rabbi Greg Alexander asked what it might mean to leave Egypt today. He passes on a challenging idea that came out of his discussion. In the modern context “Mitzrayim is alive and well, and sometimes it is actually ourselves that is the Pharaoh.”
- Rabbi Yael Splansky links the karpas with seeds of redemption. She turns to us with this challenging question: “What ‘seeds of kindness’ should be celebrated in this season of rebirth?”
- Rabbi Haim Shalom emphasizes how the themes of Passover are linked deeply to the mission of our youth movement: “One of the themes of Passover is to free oneself from one’s usual surroundings and step into the unknown. To make ourselves a tiny bit vulnerable as we are in a place which is neither here nor there. Journeying makes us vulnerable and opens us up. That opening up is how we learn. This central lesson of Jewishness is also the primary thinking behind Netzer as a youth movement. … Jewishness and Netzer are a journey – an eternal Exodus from closed spaces to freedom, inquiry, and, we hope, to finding yourself ( הגשמה hagshama).”
- And at the end of our seders when we say “Next Year In Jerusalem, Rabbi Lea Mühlstein asks that we add the word ha’bnuyah הבנויה ‘rebuilt’ to the last line of our seder. “The final words of the seder,” she writes, “must be a rallying call as we embrace our freedom: a call to accept that with freedom comes responsibility, that the fact that we are empowered to act places a duty on us to help shape a better tomorrow.”
There are real questions of freedom in our world today. Many of those questions are linked to the experience the power of freedom abdicating the necessary companion of responsibility.
When we look around our seder tables, not all of us will have children there. [Those who do have children are most likely the least able to read through additional materials at the seder.] Even without children present, we know our circle of responsibility extends to teaching our community’s children our values – the values taught through Netzer and through our synagogues and day schools – that freedom is not an end goal, but rather freedom must always be paired with responsibility.
If you are a graduate of any branch of our youth movement, Netzer Olami, please fill out this this form to stay in touch.
About the author:
Rabbi Jordan Helfman is a former LJY-Netzer Movement Worker, a Boger of NFTY, and serves on the World Union’s Executive Board and the Youth and Young Adults Advisory Group. He is an Associate Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, where he lives with his wife and four children.
 Student Rabbi Andrea Kulikovsky is the Director of Education at Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP), the largest Reform Jewish congregation in Brazil, and a student at the World Union supported IberoAmerican Institute for Reform Rabbinical Education (IIFRR). She was teaching the WUPJ’s Youth Advisory Board – the group of leaders from across our international movement who meet to share status updates, give advice, and learn together.
 b Sota 12a