Freedom is the major theme of Passover, the celebration of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And as they arrived, unmasked and smiling at the Carrboro Hampton Inn on Friday evening, it also seemed like a celebration of this holy night which was free for now from many of the constraints of COVID-19.
"This is everything," said Amy Rosenthal. "To be isolated at home and celebrate Passover is just wrong."
Marc Gould added, "If you're not Jewish, you don't know what it's like to not be around your own people. It's family. It's togetherness. It's the family -- just everything."
With his welcoming smile, Rabbi Zalman Bluming greeted everyone at the door. The director of the Durham-Chapel Hill chapter of Chabad, the largest Jewish organization in the world, is just back from eastern Europe where he got an up-close look at the ravages of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"To see the devastation first hand. And not just be an observer, but to open our hearts," Bluming said of his visit.
Just back from the Polish-Ukrainian border, Rabbi Zalman Bluming led the Triangle’s largest Passover Seder tonight, retelling the Passover story with first-hand accounts of the freedom fight of Ukrainian refugees. #abc11 pic.twitter.com/ETxf0rrbJ0— 𝙹𝚘𝚎𝚕 𝙱𝚛𝚘𝚠𝚗 (@JoelBrownABC11) April 16, 2022
He and his wife led a group of college students to the edge of the war zone. They brought food, clothes, and other necessities to Ukrainian refugees. They delivered toys to the terrified children.
What the rabbi witnessed there, he wove into his Passover message at Friday's Seder. He drew parallels to the ancient Jews overcoming adversity and the resilience he witnessed in Ukraine. Including the family that his group met who was fleeing the violence. They had no money but were met with the compassion of his students.
"Instantaneously, the students, without thinking, they realized their arms were an extension of God. Because that's what God wanted at that moment," Bluming recalled. "So they put their hands in their pockets and gave hundreds of dollars to this one family and tickets to freedom and redemption. And I get shivers about what Passover really is."
Bluming described his Passover message, as he arrived back from Ukraine, as a story of faith. And a reminder that even in the face of oppression, there is reason for hope.
Passover began at sundown Friday. It ends April 23.