Letter of the ICCJ President Liliane Apotheker and a message for the Easter Season and Pesach from the Theology Committee of the ICCJ

Easter Season + Pesach 2024

ICCJ offices Maretin Buber House Heppenheim

Source: ICCJ

ICCJ – President’s Letter

A Message for Pesach and Easter

from the Theology Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews

We are aware of the time gaps this year among the different Christian denominations regarding the dates of Easter and the gap between Easter and Pesach (“Passover”) for the Jews. Despite that, we, members of the theology committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews, see as paramount sending a joint message of hope, faith and peace to all.

This being a Jewish leap year, Pesach is “late,” especially in relation to Easter. But both festivals represent hope and renewal as the Northern Hemisphere moves into spring. The story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt is meant to show us the possibility of change, even after hundreds of years of slavery. The ritual of the Seder, when Jewish families and communities gather to retell the story to the younger generations, is one of the most-observed rituals of the entire Jewish year. Every person is supposed to feel on the night of the Seder that he or she personally came out of Egypt. When some people are still enslaved, none of us is free. This has been a most difficult year for Jews throughout the world, and we wish all our Jewish brothers and sisters a happy, meaningful and liberating Passover festival.

Christians have moved into or are moving towards the most sacred days of our calendar, Holy Week and Easter. Western Christians began their week of holiness in the days between the 24 and 30 March, culminating in Easter Day on 31 March. For Churches of the Orthodox East, Holy Week will be observed from 29 April to 4 May, with Easter – the “Pascha” or “Bright Sunday” - on 5 May. We enter these days of holiness (according to whichever calendar), not because they merely remind us of mortal Jesus’ final days, but because of our understanding that we join Jesus in his death and resurrection. Easter, for us, is the celebration of life that comes out of death. Our conviction is that Jesus’ death can be called a revelation (of our faithlessness and God’s faithfulness to us), but is not God’s final word. The Word of Life is yet more fully revealed in Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. This event offers a hope each Christian might make their own, and personal reflection is part of many Christians’ devotions in these days. But it is hope for the world – a world torn by strife, disaster, tragedy and death. The finality of death is not the final word for us. We look for life that emerges from the grave. The Risen Jesus speaks of the enduring possibility of peace in the face of incalculable human suffering, and the all-too-apparent impossibility of change.

  • Rev. Dr Michael Trainor (Chair)
  • Rev'd Patrick Morrow (Secretary)
  • Dr Pavol Bargár (ICCJ Liaison)

ICCJ – President’s Letter

Pesach 5784, April 2024

Dear Friends,

The holiday of Pesach or Passover occurs on the 15th through 22nd days of the month of Nissan according to the Hebrew Calendar. On the civic calendar this year, it begins before sundown on Monday April 22 and ends after nightfall on April 30. Jewish people will abstain from eating bread and any leavened products and will celebrate the Seder at home for two consecutive nights in the diaspora, only on one night in Israel. On the Seder night, Jewish families will gather around a festive table and a Seder plate with symbolic foods. Among them, of course, is Matza, the unleavened bread prepared in haste by the Israelites summoned by God to leave Egypt, mitzrayim in Hebrew.

Seder night is an absolute favorite in many Jewish families, a unique opportunity to celebrate a religious holiday primarily at home with friends and family, and to begin to instill in children a sense of their religious and cultural belonging to the Jewish people. It is an evening where memory is enacted in a dynamic way, the past and the present are seen as a flowing stream, a continuous thread of history, very much alive to us all. A question that a child is assigned to ask, ma nishtana, inquires, “how is this night different from all the other nights?” This introduces the narrative of the freedom regained by the Hebrew slaves of Pharaoh.

This year we will again examine how this night is different from all others. And many questions will be asked at our Seder tables. Since Pesach is a celebration of freedom, we will all think of the hostages who at the time of this writing are still held captive. There is no doubt they will be on all our minds, in our prayers, and in our hearts. We will ask ourselves how our lives have changed since October 7, and the painful reality that has emerged will be palpably felt.

The Hebrew word mitzrayim refers to Egypt of course, but in Jewish mystical literature it is derived from “m’tzarim” meaning “narrow straits”. There is no doubt that both in Israel and in the diaspora, we Jews feel in “narrow straits” right now; precariousness and vulnerability engulf us.

In Israel and Gaza, the war and its horrifying consequences do not seem to end, whilst in Israel fierce internal debates reoccur. In many parts of the diaspora Jewish people do not feel safe, in fact many constantly feel assailed by hostility. In countries with small Jewish communities, the nagging feeling of danger and fear is even more acute.

On this Seder night, we will be even more aware of the immense pressure that we are living under. We will seek to tell the story of the exodus in a way that is uplifting both for us and for our children. This narrative of freedom from slavery that the Jewish people have upheld faithfully for millennia has a universal quality, a story that many people around the world have embraced as their own. This fact itself should remain a source of inspiration to us all.

I wish those who celebrate it an inspiring Pesaḥ that uplifts their hopes and convictions. May its celebration endow all Jews with a sense of freedom from the narrow straits that we inhabit for now and with the inner strength needed to confront our many questions.

Liliane Apotheker ICCJ President