This Monday in my class on Medieval Biblical Commentators, Rabbi Ben Hollander, the teacher, decided to give a shiur (lesson) about the Exodus from Egypt, in preparation for Pesach. It was a very interesting lesson.
I find it fascinating that the Book of Exodus, and the story of our people’s departure from Egypt begins with the first act of civil disobedience in the Torah, when Shifra and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, rebel against Pharoah’s command, refusing to kill the Israelite babies.
However, while the content of the lesson was interesting, I was struck by the story Rabbi Hollander told of visiting Russia, when it was still the Soviet Union. He told us of being warned by the deputy manager of the hotel to stop meeting people (ie. Jews and Refuseniks) and to concentrate on seeing the sites (like the Hermitage in St Petersburg).
While a lot has changed with the fall of communism, I think it is very important that Jews around the world do not stop campaigning and working for the Jews of Russia. He went to visit at a time when the Jews needed support against Soviet oppression, I will be visiting at a time when the Jews need support in learning about and practicing their Judaism.
I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to visit St Petersburg and to help the Progressive Jewish community there, and I am really grateful to all of my funders, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism for helping to organise this trip. It is amazing that a Jewish community in one part of the world is so ready to help another community on the other side of the world, simply because they are also Jews. It may sound corny, but there really is one Jewish family!
I hope that when I’m in St Petersburg there will be no deputy hotel managers telling me to concentrate on seeing the sites, as I am much more excited about meeting the people, afterall, they’re family.