Reflecting on Passover with Rabbi Jack Riemer: Proclaim a ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—So far, Russian attacks in Ukraine have not hit the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Ukraine. The building is an architectural landmark because it was designed in 1909 with the intention of including visual elements reflecting Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures of Palestine. Because of the building’s enormous size—138 feet tall at the dome with a total footprint of 22,250 square feet—the building’s Soviet-era uses included as a cinema and a sports complex. When the building was returned to the Jewish community in 1990, it once again became a center of Jewish life in Kharkiv. Many Christian Ukrainian leaders have visited this synagogue to show solidarity with the Jewish community. (Note: This photo by Adam Jones can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. You can see more photographs below.)


EDITOR’S NOTE: Rabbi Jack Riemer often is referred to as a “dean of preachers” among Jewish clergy, because he has taught and mentored so many of his colleagues. This year, he sent out a special adaptation of the popular Passover song Dayenu, which includes a focus on Ukraine. If you feel so moved, Rabbi Riemer welcomes readers to share this text with others.


A Dayenu for Our Time: ‘If we only …’

Author of  Finding God in Unexpected Places

Dayenu is a spirited song that is a highlight of the Passover Seder. The word itself refers to the phrase, “It would have been enough …” and expresses heartfelt gratitude for the many ways God protected the Jewish people during the Exodus. Shown here is a haggadah, a guide to the Seder, created in Germany in about 1300. This illustrated manuscript is open to the text of Dayenu. (Note: You can share this photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

If we only saw the courage with which the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and their freedom—it would be enough to make us admire them;

If we only saw the kindness with which so many people in Europe and Israel and elsewhere have opened their hearts and their homes to the refugees from Ukraine it would have been enough to make us stand in awe;

If we only saw the wonder that Ukraine, which was once so antisemitic, is now led by a Jew who has become the moral voice of the world—it would have been enough to make us proud;

But so long as the cities of this land lie in rubble, and so long as its people must take shelter in subway stations and so long as their maternity hospitals and their movie theaters are considered targets for the enemy’s missiles, and so long as so many of its people live without food or water or heat—it is not enough for us to take pride in their achievements or to sit back and watch their suffering but we must send medical equipment and food and funds and we must do whatever else we can in order to help them;

And if we only saw the bravery of the young Russian woman who went into a television station in Moscow during a news broadcast and held up a sign that said, ‘THIS IS NOT TRUE’—how impressed we would be.

But since we see all of these things every day, we must not turn away from watching the news because it is too painful and we must not hide our eyes from what is going on but instead we must work and pray and cry out and do whatever else we can—and if we don’t?

Then the sanity of humanity will be lost.

If we only saw the calm and quiet dignity with which Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson responded to the crude and rude questions that she was subjected to at her Senate hearing—we would feel proud;

And if we only have the ability to choose our channels or to turn off our television sets whenever our leaders lie to us and whenever they tell falsehoods that seek to divide us—how fortunate we are;

And when we are hesitant to be with our families or our friends because of the fear that we may endanger them or that they may endanger us—how blessed we are that we have vaccines that can protect us for these medicines did not exist just a few years ago;

And when we are confined to our homes for days that turn into weeks and weeks that turn into months, how blessed we are that we have homes—unlike so many people in this land who are homeless—and how blessed we are that we can work from home, and that we can be with our loved ones at home;

But until those who live under bridges and in their cars and on the streets have homes, and until those who do not have the vaccines that we do, can get them—it is not enough to just be thankful for what we have but we must do whatever we can to enable others to have the blessings that we take for granted.

And when we miss our grandchildren and wish that we could hug them and kiss them without endangering them—let us be grateful that we can at least see them and speak to them and listen to them on Zoom or on livestream, for this is the next best thing to being with them, and these things did not exist just a few years ago;

For all these things, let us be grateful tonight and let us express our gratitude by belting out the song Dayenu with a whole and a happy heart;

But let us also be aware of how much there is still left for us to do in order to bring close the day when these blessings will be the possession or all those who live on earth.

For now we know that we are one related, interdependent human race, for what we breathe in—our neighbors breathe out; and what they breathe out—we breathe in.

And therefore, we are bound up with each other and we must learn to live together as partners.

Exterior of the Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)


Interior of Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)



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 Jack Riemer …

FOR MORE HOLIDAY STORIES from Rabbi Riemer, get a copy of his book Finding God in Unexpected Places. In endorsing his book, Dr. Bernie Siegel, best-selling author of a dozen books about spirituality and healing, tells readers: “Rabbi Riemer offers us the kind of wisdom that we need in order to survive and thrive.”

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel adds, “Jack Riemer’s words are songs of hope and faith. Listen to them as I do.”

What do a professional baseball player, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry box, a hurricane, a garbage dump and a blue blazer hanging in your closet have to do with each other? They’re all turning points in Riemer’s stories that lead us toward universal questions we all confront at some point in life, including:

Is there a dream that gives meaning to your life? What are our duties to the people we love? How do you make a decision when you’re caught between two conflicting values? And, what would you do if you found out that your time on this earth was almost up?

Reflecting on Riemer’s wisdom about life, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes that the rabbi “is obviously a person with much understanding of the human situation.”




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