Celebrating freedom … with an eye on the news


Much is going on in the world around us. And in this issue of Jewish Rhode Island, which focuses on Passover and celebrates freedom, I can’t help but look at what’s happening in the world and focus on the Jewish angle.

A month ago, few people thought that Ukraine would still be suffering from this level of atrocities. And it shows no signs of abating, although, as I write this, Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have just begun meeting in Turkey about a cease fire. At least it’s a start.

The worldwide Jewish community has rallied to support the agencies and people working in Ukraine and its border countries to help fund refugee centers and other needs.

Locally, Rhode Islanders contributed more than $230,000 to the Ukraine Emergency Campaign coordinated by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. These funds go directly to our partners on the ground in Eastern Europe, including World ORT, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

As of March 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine since the brutal Russian invasion began. Poland is hosting 2.3 million, 595,868 went to Romania, 383,627 fled to Moldova, 354,041 went to Hungary, and 275,439 to Slovakia. These are not just our Jewish brethren. And these numbers are no doubt higher as you read this. But the numbers are already staggering.

If you follow the Jewish press like I do, you will see reports of Israeli medical help in Ukraine, including a field hospital set up in Lviv. And the agencies mentioned above are sending volunteers to the border crossings in Poland, Romania and Moldova.

Surely we can all see the parallels between Ukrainians fleeing to safety in the midst of a relentless attack on their homeland to incidents in our own Jewish history, including the Exodus story, which we will retell in just a few weeks at seders around the world.

Perhaps I’m more drawn to it right now, but it seems there has been a lot of good Jewish news recently. Did you see these items?

After months of delay, Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be the State Department’s next antisemitism monitor. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for confirmation.

The historic Negev Summit between Israeli and Arab leaders concluded with an announcement that meetings about regional security will become a regular event, rotating among participating countries.

The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of the American Jewish University and one of two Conservative seminaries training rabbis, announced that it would slash tuition by nearly 80%.

There was a strong Jewish presence at the Academy Awards, where Hans Zimmer won his second Oscar, for his original score for the sci-fi epic “Dune,” and Marlee Matlin was front and center when the cast of “CODA” came to the stage to accept the Oscar for best picture of the year.

With Passover still two weeks away, I’m sure there will be much more in the news to discuss when families come together to celebrate our freedom from slavery all those years ago. And for the first time in two years, many families will be sharing the seder face to face – something we have all sorely missed.

And as we come together, may we all take stock of how far we have come in many ways – such as the highlights mentioned above and our emergence from the wilderness that has been the COVID-19 pandemic – and how far we still have to go to ensure that all people on Earth have the freedom to joyfully celebrate together in the years to come.

Best wishes for a Happy Pesach!

Fran Ostendorf, Editor