After spending every year ending my family’s Passover seders in Los Angeles by saying “Next year in Jerusalem!”, this year I finally have the opportunity to be in Israel, and I’m hoping to leave to spend Passover in Belarus, in the communities of Vitebsk (birthplace of Marc Chagall!) and Mogilev (probable birthplace of Irving Berlin), as well as Minsk. My fellow classmates and I will be spending this Passover participating in the FSU Pesach Project, through the World Union for Progressive Judaism. It’s a project in which HUC-JIR students have been participating in for 10 years. Together, cohorts of rabbinical, cantorial, and education students have traveled to congregations in the former Soviet Union. They’ve led seders, participated in concerts, taught songs and ran education programs for communities that for years were denied the Jewish expression that we in the United States expect as a basic human right. Today, these communities have blossomed into thriving centers of Jewish life, but many function without the regular support of clergy – a lack my classmates and I aim to fill next month.
We are blessed to come from progressive Jewish communities in the States that see the value in these types of programs focused on bringing Jews from around the world together to celebrate our shared Jewish heritage. Many of us chose to participate because of a family connection to the region, but all of us are eagerly anticipating the new connections we will make during our time there. I’m excited to see what Passover observance looks like somewhere other than home, to see how working with a translator affects the flow of the seder, and to meet Jews from places I can’t quite pronounce correctly yet. All of the participants are reaching out to our families, friends, and home congregations to help us fundraise to enable this program to be a success. And we also need your help. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help this HUC-JIR Passover tradition continue. Any contribution would be greatly appreciated by all the students. Click here to donate, and here to learn more about the program.
At this time of year, when our thoughts are turned to the Exodus story, we ask you to help us reach our promised land, so that this Passover we can say “This year in the FSU!”
Nicole Berne is a first-year MAJE student from Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from Indiana University in 2011, majoring in English and history. Looking ahead, Nicole is excited to explore opportunities for pursuing social justice through Jewish education both in classwork and through hands-on community engagement.