Jenna’s Passover Message

Hi friends, I’d like to introduce a guest blogger, my daughter Jenna. Jenna is on staff at the University of Maryland Hillel as a Springboard Fellow specializing in social justice and student engagement. Because of her experiences on campus and her recent travels to Israel, I asked her to write this to share with our family. Jenna has graciously allowed me to share her thoughts with all of you. We are so proud of her work to engage and support Jewish students here and her volunteerism in Israel.  I hope you will take a few minutes to read this and learn from her firsthand experiences. – XO Elisa

A lot can change in a year. A year ago today, I was preparing to graduate from college and go to Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip.

A lot can change in six months. About six months ago, one of my student’s friends, Omer Neutra, was taken hostage by Hamas and hasn’t been heard from since.

A lot can change in a month. A month ago I came back from Israel where I saw and heard the resiliency of the Jewish people even with all of the pain.

A lot can change in a week, a weekend, a day, an hour, or a moment. This year, while I was on the front lines of many different faces of this war, I learned that every moment counts. For the next few, I want to share why.

I will need time to process my trip before I can share everything I experienced in Israel. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to share everything perfectly so you all can understand what it is like to feel so safe in a place that the world despises. I will say that picking cherry tomatoes while hearing bombs exploding only miles away from where I was standing is something I will never forget. At a farm about 10 kilometers from Khan Yunis in Gaza, I picked tomatoes for a 55-year-old farmer who had been called up from the reserves as a paratrooper. He told us he desperately needed our help because he only had one day to harvest an acre’s worth of cherry tomatoes, and he had to go back to Lebanon the next day. 

Yet, with all of the worry, stress, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, strength, bravery, excitement, warmth, and resiliency that is felt in Israel, what surprised me the most was their concern for us Americans. They watch the news as we show our support for them and are met with antisemitism. And it breaks their hearts. I was in one conversation with Amit, my tour educator, and when I asked him what he thinks of the war, he told me he could ask me the same question. He said that we are fighting a war to stop antisemitism. I told him I didn’t think that we were at war because, yes, we are fighting back against stupid people, but it was nothing compared to what was happening in Israel. It was a social issue and something that I truly cared about, but not a war. 

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a meeting with a packet in front of me titled “How to Stop BDS.” If you are unfamiliar with the acronym, BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, and calls for different societal institutions, like universities, to boycott, divest, and sanction anything related and connected to Israel. A motion was brought up to the University of Maryland’s Student Government Association to pass BDS, and ever since then, our team of student leaders and staff mobilized our community of nearly 6,000 Jewish students to speak up about their connection to Israel. We set up tables on campus with information in an attempt to open up a dialogue with others who may differ in opinion. Many times, I engaged in productive and insightful conversations where we agreed that communication is a great tool to disengage tensions. However, I cannot ignore the people who rolled their eyes, took down our hostage posters, and shouted “Free Palestine” in our faces. 

If this bill passed, university officials could be called upon to cut any and all ties to Israel. Antisemitism rates on campus would inevitably skyrocket as it has on all college campuses that have adopted a pro-BDS stance. It would also lead us down a path where people will never know about the Jewish community’s cultural, historical, and spiritual connection to the land of Israel.

This past Wednesday, I sat outside a hall full of people and listened via livestream to 60 of them speak about whether they believe the BDS bill should be passed. I heard a speaker claim that the media attention about the rise in antisemitism is a ploy the Jewish community uses as a tactic to distract from the real problem and that if you care for Israel, you hate human rights. Another person referred to what was happening in Gaza as “the largest genocide recorded in history” directly after mentioning the Holocaust. For three hours, I had to sit and listen silently to people screaming at my community for things we did not do, and each moment was awful. Four hours after the last person spoke, the Student Government Association announced a vote of 18-17 against the bill, with one person abstaining. It was close. Too close. We were all exhausted, as if we just won a battle, and I started to believe Amit’s words that we were also at war. 

This year has been full of unexpected moments, but I am grateful that we all expected this moment around the Seder table. We all knew we would come together at some point during Passover to do what we have always done, to take part in a cultural, historical, and spiritual tradition that highlights, rejoices, and reminds us of Jewish resilience and strength. With all that has been a surprise in my life recently, and I’m sure in all of yours, I am truly grateful we are here, together.

Chag Sameach. 


5 comments on Jenna’s Passover Message

  1. Tamara
    April 24, 2024 at 12:55 am (2 months ago)

    It’s good to hear firsthand what people are experiencing in either country. Thank you for your important work on campus, your community and here on your lovely Mom’s blog, Jenna!
    Keep up the dialogue and never give up ❤️

  2. Carol Newman
    April 23, 2024 at 3:14 pm (2 months ago)

    Beautifully written, Jenna! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Victoria Juster
    April 23, 2024 at 1:34 pm (2 months ago)

    Thank you for sharing, Jenna. And thank you for everything that you’re doing.

  4. Liz Hirsch
    April 23, 2024 at 1:13 pm (2 months ago)

    BeUtiful and haunting words Jenna. I am so proud of you

  5. Lynn Edelman
    April 23, 2024 at 12:48 pm (2 months ago)

    What a thoughtful, insightful post that eloquently articulates what so many of our fellow Jews are feeling right now. With young people like Jenna in positions of Jewish communal leadership, I have hope for our future.
    Chag Sameach!