Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—So far, Russian bombardment has not damaged the landmark Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv. In 1898, government officials and leading citizens of the region, most of whom were Christian, helped the Jewish community of Kyiv celebrate the opening of this new synagogue. Then—three decades later under Soviet attempts to wipe out religious communities—the building was turned into a school, a military facility and later a puppet theater. Many of the building’s religious ornaments were removed in the Soviet attempt to erase its original purpose. After the collapse of the USSR, the Jewish community reclaimed the building in the early 1990s, starting with a celebration of Hanukkah. (Note: This photo of the Brodsky Synagogue by “Thez” can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. You’ll find more photos below.)


‘The most widely celebrated Jewish holiday’

Author of Torah Tutor

This photograph of a seder plate can be shared via Wikimedia Commons.

Some people love the familiarity of repeated rituals, each detail remembered from years’ past. Others prefer innovation: Make it new! Make it different!

The Passover Seder experience encourages both. It “wouldn’t be a Seder” without certain foods—matzah, horseradish, parsley—and family recipes. It “wouldn’t be a Seder” without certain songs, certain jokes and jabs, certain candlesticks and kiddush cups.

But each year’s Seder provides an opportunity to connect history with current events. Recently, I’ve conducted Seders that highlighted the growing presence of diverse sexualities and family constellations within our community. Decades ago, I conducted Seders that focused on Soviet Jews who were forbidden to emigrate to Israel. Those were called “Let My People Go” Seders.

I have been part of many women’s Seders that draw attention to the under-acknowledged women that make Jewish holidays, nay—Jewish life—possible. A Miriam’s Cup stands alongside the traditional Elijah’s Cup. An orange, representing the inclusion of all heretofore absent or underserved participants, finds a place on the Seder plate.

‘This year … thinking of Ukraine …’

This year, I will place a Ukrainian flag on the Seder plate. It’s a statement of solidarity with a people in desperate straits.

It will be impossible to begin the Seder meal with the words, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat,” without thinking of those citizens in Ukraine’s bombed-out cities who have limited or no access to food or water. This year, it will be impossible to read the paragraph about how the Israelites fled in the middle of the night so as to evade Pharaoh’s armies, without thinking of the traumatized women and children and elderly who await a lull in the shelling to make their way to a bus to take them (with nothing but their clothes and small carry-bags), to a place where they can breathe and sleep and sob.

This year, as we take drops of wine out of the ceremonial cup to indicate the sweetness of our celebration is marred by the destruction that took place in order for freedom to be realized, I will take out extra drops in recognition of the Russian soldiers who were unaware of the war they would be fighting, and who, perhaps, want no part of it.

This year, the World Union for Progressive Judaism sent out a special appeal: “The World Union is urging its 1.8 million members around the globe to add a beetroot to their Seder plate this Passover to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Ukraine’s most famous national food is borscht, for which the main ingredient is beetroot—making this a symbolic way to express support during the festival.”

Early in the Seder, we break a piece of matzah. A very crisp cracker/flatbread, it makes a sharp sound when it’s broken. Each year, this sound draws my attention to the brokenness in the world. This year, that brokenness is located in a country whose blue and yellow flag has come to symbolize courage and freedom.

‘If only nations …’

Many families sing “Dayenu,” which begins with the word, “Ilu.” “Ilu” means “if only.”

If only nations beat the swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

If only countries could decide for themselves what kind of government they want.

If only, even in war, soldiers didn’t kill civilians, didn’t bomb hospitals and schools, didn’t plunder and rape and needlessly destroy.

This sentence introduces the recitation part of the Haggadah (the Seder book or telling): “Anyone who grows the telling of the Exodus story, behold, they are praiseworthy.” I understand this as encouragement to expand our awareness of Passover to include the rejection of all tyrants and the perpetual pursuit of freedom.

The Seder closes with “Next year in Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem,” (“Yerushalayim” in Hebrew) contains the word for peace, “shalom.”

So, it is fitting to end this year’s Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and I will add, “in Kiev, too.”


Exterior of the Brodsky Synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

Screen over the ark at the Brodsky Synagogue in Ukraine.


Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Rabbi Lenore Bohm …

VISIT RABBI LENORE’S RESOURCE PAGE: Go to to find more information about her ongoing work and her new book.

Order a copy of her new book from Amazon.

When is Passover? The date moves each year with lunar cycles. This year, it begins after sunset on Friday, April 15.

Religion News Service: This week, the Religion News Service carries a story, headlined, ‘Torah Tutor’ arrives in time for Passover and spring Bible studies




Prayer, Study and Trauma in the wake of the Texas synagogue attack

Police outside the Colleyville synagogue on January 15, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)



This morning I came across a headline for an upcoming webinar from a Jewish Learning Center I frequent. It said: Tefilah (which means “prayer”), Torah (which means “study of Jewish text”) and Trauma (which I assumed referred to the hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15).

For more than a week, Jewish news has been filled with references to the 11-hour synagogue siege, the bravery and spiritual stamina of the rabbi, and the new vigilance that synagogues and Jewish institutions throughout the country must now undertake.

But here’s the thing: The headline that caught my eye didn’t actually say “Tefilah, Torah and Trauma.” It said, “Tefilah, Torah and Teruma,” referring to a section of Scripture (Exodus 25:1-27:19) that will be studied in a few weeks. What I read—the grouping of prayer, study and trauma made perfect sense to me—because since January 15, trauma has become part of our daily Jewish conversation.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl was the rabbi whom the terrorist telephoned to try to arrange for the release of a prisoner serving a sentence for al-Qaeda-engineered crimes including attempted murder. In her sermon this past Friday night, Buchdahl said, “If you are a Jew in America today and you are not feeling unsettled, you are not paying enough attention.”

She said this in New York City. In a confident, comfortable, thriving Manhattan synagogue. In a city where Jews are deeply embedded in the social, cultural, and professional landscape. In a neighborhood where antisemitic views are not tolerated and hate crimes of any ilk are anathema.

If Jews in Manhattan are uneasy, imagine how the rest of us feel.

I expect to be greeted by armed security guards when I go to synagogue in my home city of San Diego. Most of us take that in stride now, but think about explaining it to your child or your children’s friends who are attending services as guests. It’s great to be Jewish, we want our children to feel. It’s a venerated tradition, a historical privilege and a noble responsibility.

We ask ourselves: Is there always a price?

After last week, would you let your child attend a friend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah in a synagogue? If you did, would you give them any warning in advance? If you didn’t let them go, how would you explain that? That it’s not safe to be Jewish? That some people “hate Jews?”

Think about approaching your place of worship, hungry for a spiritual experience, an experience of warmth, connection, and inspiration. But first, as you approach the armed individuals dressed in black, you remind yourself that the guards are there because someone might not be walking through the doors looking for hope and healing. Someone might want to target you or your spiritual home or people who share your customs and beliefs. Because they think Jews are infidels. Or because they believe Jews control the world. Now, relax, greet your friends, take a seat, enjoy the music, join in prayers for peace and understanding. Stay after the service and mingle with others. Let your children or grandchildren run freely, treating the synagogue and its grounds as a safe place, a second home.

Is this possible?

Can we ever let our guard down?

Since the murders at the Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, many synagogues and “Jewish” buildings have tightened security. For safety reasons, it’s imperative that security be extensive and visible. Additionally, any synagogue or Jewish school or community center that doesn’t seriously invest in security will dramatically lose attendance and the trust of its constituents.

Security discussions are part of board meetings, staff meetings, strategic planning and priority hiring. Such an unfortunate use of people’s time, energy, resources and communal commitments! Unfortunate, not because these aren’t critically important concerns, but because that very time, energy, etc. would be put to so much better use if it were directed to educational and healing pursuits. If those resources were put towards feeding the hungry and camp scholarships and teen programs and support for the frail and elderly, and…and…

Instead, for the past few years, our preoccupation has been with safety because this is the world we live in. And, now, once again, we are reminded how vulnerable we are. We who frequent synagogues and other Jewish meeting places daily, weekly or even just occasionally, we are frightened, angry or shattered. Or all three.

Rabbis are taught to end sermons with “Nechemta,” meaning, “words of comfort.”

I guess this article can’t be used as a sermon because I have nothing of comfort to say.

Perhaps you can comfort me.

Thank you.



Care to learn more?

Care to respond? You can add a comment below, or you could contact Rabbi Bohm through our magazine via [email protected]

Rabbi Lenore Bohm was among the early wave of women ordained as rabbis in America. Before her ordination in 1982, she studied at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion in Jerusalem and Cincinnati. She began her rabbinic service in San Diego; she has continued her studies both in the U.S. and Israel over many years; and she has become widely known in southern California as a leading Jewish educator. In early 2022, we will publish her reflections on the Torah, a week-by-week guide book for individual reflection or small-group discussion. Stay tuned to for news about that upcoming book!

FOR MORE ABOUT COPING WITH SUCH TRAUMA: Readers concerned about the legacy of such traumas—and the resiliency that helps families to cope with these tragedies—will want to read Healing a Shattered Soul, by Mindy Corporon. Mindy lost both her son and her father in the 2014 shootings outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. For more on “unplugging extremism,” please read Bill Tammeus’s Love, Loss and Endurance.

FOR MORE ABOUT REMEMBRANCE AND COMBATTING ANTISEMITISM: Read about this year’s observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2022.

‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Rediscovering the meaning behind today’s holiday industry.


A Time to Ponder Some Powerful Themes


Author and Contributing Columnist

Let’s start with the truth that Jews find themselves explaining to Christians each year: No, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. These are completely different festivals. The main challenge Jewish families share with their Christian neighbors at this time of year is trying to rediscover the meaning beneath the vast weight of the holiday industry.

Jewish families know that our most important holiday season is in the autumn: the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with the week-long Sukkot harvest festival coming five days later. For those whose lives are shaped by Jewish practice, this winter celebration is recognized as subordinate to the biblically based holy days. Hanukkah is a distinctly minor holiday, elevated in importance only because it usually falls in December. Occasionally, such as this year, it begins earlier: November 28 will mark the lighting of the first candle.

Only because of its timing has this little festival been folded into the American “holiday season” of lights, decorations, presents and parties. Today, North American Hanukkah has become part of the holiday industry: elaborate decorations, themed wrapping paper and paper goods, personalized greeting cards, recipe books and sometimes even a so-called Hanukkah bush embellished with blue and white/silver ornaments.

But Hanukkah’s origins and meaning are far different than what Christians celebrate in December.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most Jewish families recognized that Hanukkah meant lighting the multi-branched candelabrum, singing a few Hanukkah songs, eating potato latkes (pancakes), playing with a dreidel (a 4-sided spinning top) and giving small gifts to children, usually one gift per night.

It was a modest celebration, cozy and intimate.

But in the same way that thoughtful Christians reject the exploitation of Christmas as a commercial enterprise, so do thoughtful Jews reject the false equivalency of Hanukkah as a blue-and-white-silver version of red-green-and-white Christmas.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the national Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled by the ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in 168BCE. A coalition led by the Maccabee family pledged to fight against the Greeks and against fellow Jews who encouraged—or coerced—rejection of Judaism in favor of Hellenistic ideas and ideals. Although vastly outnumbered and materially disadvantaged, the Maccabees and their followers prevailed. They captured the Temple, which had fallen into Greek hands and was rendered unfit for Jewish practice.

According to the story, those entering the Temple found only one day’s worth of purified oil to light the candelabrum (menorah) that was the symbolic centerpiece of the Temple. Somehow (miracle, anyone?) the oil lasted for eight days until additional purified oil could be obtained. Hence, the eight day festival and the kindling of eight lights.

This is an abbreviated and slightly mythologized telling of Hanukkah’s origins. But, mythology notwithstanding, there are important lesson we can draw from the story. As is true of nearly every religious/cultural holiday, Hanukkah provides an opportunity to elevate certain important themes that go beyond the holiday’s color, food, musical and commercial associations.

Powerful Themes of Hanukkah

At Hanukkah, we can choose to ponder some powerful themes:

  • Minorities are always at risk of being attacked, from the outside, for their differences.
  • Minorities are always at risk for being seduced, from the outside, to join the dominant group and abandon their uniqueness.
  • Within minorities, people differ on how much the group should insist on retaining their authenticity, their particularism.
  • A culture/religion that never changes will atrophy.
  • A culture/religion that always changes will lose its identity.

The word Hanukkah, often spelled Chanukah, means “dedication,” referencing the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. But a related Hebrew word Chinuch means “education.”

The lessons of Hanukkah are far more important than its role as a seasonal opportunity for decorations and gifts. And, in the end, that’s the main challenge observant Jewish and Christian neighbors share in this winter season.


Care to learn more?

Rabbi Lenore Bohm was among the early wave of women ordained as rabbis in America. Before her ordination in 1982, she studied at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion in Jerusalem and Cincinnati. She began her rabbinic service in San Diego; she has continued her studies both in the U.S. and Israel over many years; and she has become widely known in southern California as a leading Jewish educator. In early 2022, we will publish her reflections on the Torah, a week-by-week guide book for individual reflection or small-group discussion. Stay tuned to for news about that upcoming book!