This Passover, Save a Seat…


In writing about the mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt—the purpose of the Passover seder—the brilliant rabbi-philosopher Maimonides wrote:

"It is better for one to add upon the telling and stretch out the words…It is like they said: 'Anyone who is expansive in his telling of the Exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.'"1

Amid our busy lives, Passover has this ability to disrupt the patterns of thinking—the mental chametz—that can quietly shape us day by day. But without challenging ourselves to look at Passover with fresh eyes, without that expansive mindset, there is a risk of settling into a rinse-and-repeat approach to the seder.

Throughout history, Jews have taken up that call for an expansive seder that builds on tradition in creative ways. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg notes: "In some medieval Sephardic communities, people enhanced their re-enactment by dressing for a journey…[including] sandals on feet, a staff at hand, and packs on their backs."2

The tradition of seder innovation continued into the modern era. Writing in the 80s, Rabbi Greenberg noted the custom at the time of "setting aside an additional matzah as a symbol of the bread of slavery for Jews, wherever they are oppressed, such as in Soviet Russia, Syria, and Ethiopia. A prayer for their deliverance is said at this time. The message is clear: liberty is indivisible. As long as others remain oppressed, my freedom is diminished. Appropriate readings of letters or statements from Soviet or Ethiopian Jews may be read."

Last Passover, I don’t think any of us could have predicted we’d be sitting down for a seder in 2024 as Israelis defend themselves in a multi-front war. Or that more than 100 Israelis would be held hostage by terrorists in Gaza. Or that antisemitism would be seeing a dangerous resurgence throughout the Diaspora.

But we are also witnessing an extraordinary level of unity, strength, and activism throughout our community. Building on this energy, Passover is a powerful opportunity to be creative—and allow the seder to speak to the struggle for the freedom of the Jewish people today. 

While there are many meaningful ways to do so, here are three that resonated with me:

  • Rabbi David Lau, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, has published a special prayer for the return of hostages to be said during the seder before Vehi She’amda. Click here to download the prayer in Hebrew and English.
  • Our friends at the Hostage and Missing Families Forum are encouraging families to leave an empty chair at their seder table to symbolize a hostage being held in Gaza. Consider adding a yellow ribbon or photo of a hostage to the chair—click here for photos, as well as other helpful seder resources from the forum. Stories of hostages can also add depth to the seder conversation and may be found at the Times of Israel’s Those We Are Missing series.
  • The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) published Four More Questions, a timely conversation starter for the seder table about the current challenges confronting the Jewish people.

This Passover, the question of why this night is different from every other night will take on a whole new dimension. The times are far from ordinary and the Jewish people are far from okay.

But this isn’t our first difficult Passover in Jewish history. May we each seize the opportunity to create a seder that will speak to the current moment, and ultimately reconnect us to the ideas and traditions that have strengthened Jews for millennia.  

It all starts with saving an empty seat.

Chag Sameach,

Adam Minsky
President & CEO



PS: As we prepare to celebrate, may we all remember to help those who are struggling to put food on the table. UJA's Global Seder supports poverty relief programs in our local and global Jewish communities, including programs that provide healthy, kosher for Passover groceries and supplies.

To all who have donated: thank you! If you would like to make a gift, there’s still time—click here to donate today.


1. Sefer HaMitzvot (Mitzvah 157)

2. "The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays" by Rabbi Irving Greenberg