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Rabbi David Wirtschafter


Aerial view of an empty chair at a wooden table

When we gather on April 19 and 20 to mark the first two nights of Passover, we will pray. And we will ask aloud: What makes this year’s seders different from all others?

These two nights will mark the first seders since two African-American individuals were killed at a grocery store parking lot simply because of their race; their murderer wanted to shoot up a church.

What makes these seders different from last year’s?

These two seders will be the first since 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue simply because they were Jewish.

What makes this year...

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A man in a kippah walks by a wall of photos of people who disappeared during Guatemalas internal armed conflict

During an intense week in January, I traveled around Guatemala, learning about good people in a dire situation. I met human rights workers, whose efforts are criminalized; midwives, whose skills go unrecognized; women’s rights activists, whose protests are marginalized; journalists, whose reporting is trivialized; and survivors of forced eviction, whose very right to exist has been jeopardized.

I traveled as part of a group of 15 U.S. rabbis who are spending a year learning about poverty, human rights, and justice as we study these issues through the perspective of Jewish values...

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Two female students holding gun violence prevention signs at a march

There are lists on which teenagers belong and others on which they don’t. Teenagers dream of making the team list, cast list, recruiting list, and admissions list. If there’s one place teenagers don’t belong, though, it’s on the Mourner's Kaddish list – yet tonight marks the Sabbath before the yahrzeit for 14 youths and three adults shot to death at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018.

Among life’s painful lessons is that of accepting death. Sickness, old age, accidents, natural disasters: We can live we these deaths. We learn to accept them...

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Closeup of snowflakes

“He casts forth His ice as fragments. Who can stand before His cold.” Psalm 147:17

It’s been cold this week – so cold that where I live, the county cancelled school two days in a row. “Extreme weather days,” they are called, not “snow days.” Snow days can be fun; not so this kind of cold. It was colder in Chicago this week than it was in the North Pole.

There’s nothing like the absence of something to make us more appreciative of its presence.

Just as fasting on Yom Kippur helps us better appreciate food, being cold this week should make us more grateful for...

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Piece of broken matzah wrapped in a purple checkered cloth

The Passover ritual of the afikomen – breaking the middle matzah, declaring a portion of it to be afikomen, hiding it, sending people to find it, then re-dividing it and sharing it with everyone – is wonderfully playful and deeply profound. It was a stroke of pedagogical genius to include a ritual so physical, one that requires participants to get up and move around, to infuse a healthy dose of variety and contrast to a night that revolves around a lot of talking, listening, and staying in place.

So, too, is the progression of afikomen events consistent with the essentials of great...

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