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Pesach in St. Petersburg

Pesach in St. Petersburg – My first sermon in Russian

I don’t think you know hospitality until you come to Shaarei Shalom in St Petersburg. I spent yesterday working in the office, and literally every fifteen minutes one of the team would poke their head around the corner, and offer me tea, coffee, juice, or food. And then when I’d get up to go and get it, they would insist that I stay put while they went to provide for my every need.

I spent the day preparing sedarim, Torah readings and a few other things.

Then in the evening during the Kabbalat Shabbat service, it was time for my first sermon in Russian. Well I still gave the sermon in English, but I had Rabbi Michael translating it for the community.

I was tempted to include the sermon here, but I think that some of the comments (and dare I say jokes) only work with in the Russian, or at least with the Russian translator.

I chose to talk about the additional paragraph which we add to the Amidah, as with much of the Amidah, the entire paragraph is in the we form. We stand before God as one people on festivals, and to make sure God doesn’t forget this, we even state: “remember your people Israel before you”. There is something special about the fact that across the world, on festivals, we Jews affirm our unity as one people.

I was especially struck by the fact that for me festivals are a time for family to come together, and although this year I am spending Pesach away from my family, I really feel that I have been made a part of Rabbi Michael’s family and the wider St Petersburg Jewish family. In fact I would suggest that the additional paragraph, which we add to the Amidah, is a way for the entire Jewish family to come together. We bypass both space and time in the recitation of these words, and the assertion that together we all stand as one before God.

Being in Russia has once again reminded me of what it means to be a part of the Children of Israel. Why is it that so often we are referred to as the Children of Israel? I honestly think it is to remind us that every Jew is our distant cousin, somewhat removed, but still a member of this one, very special, family.

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