The following column appeared in the Miami Herald.

This week, Jews around the world gathered with family, friends and community for Passover Seders, the festive meal replete with ritual and symbolism, through which we retell the story of the Exodus and the journey of Jews from slavery to freedom. It is among the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays, usually marked by joy, togetherness and tradition.

This year, the story of Passover has taken on new meaning as Israel defends itself from attacks by Iran and its proxies and as antisemitism has surged to unprecedented levels in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,200 people in Israel by Hamas. 

This Passover is marked by pain and fear. During the Seder, we use saltwater to symbolize our tears and bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery and oppression faced by the Jews in Egypt.

We don’t need saltwater this year as our tears have not stopped.

The Jewish community has been in mourning and in a state of suspended time since Oct. 7, the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. Many Seder tables, including mine, left an empty chair to symbolize the absence of the 133 men, women, children and babies still held hostage by Hamas terrorists.

Their absence remains an open wound, each chair representing a crater of loss felt by their loved ones and the whole of the Jewish people. We fear for their well-being and pray for their safe return. Their names and faces are etched in our minds. 

The shocking, precipitous resurgence of antisemitism around the world marks this Passover. Here in the U.S., protests on college campuses have long since crossed the line from “peaceful” to antisemitic mobs burning Israeli flags and accosting Jewish students. 

At Columbia University, anti-Israel protestors waved Hamas flags, urged Jews to “go back to Poland” and held signs urging Hamas to make pro-Israel students their next target. The free exchange of ideas so vaunted on many campuses has been subsumed by intolerance and anarchy to the point where Jewish students feel not only unwelcome but unsafe.

When Brandeis University, an institution founded by American Jews to counter antisemitism, said Tuesday it would extend its deadline for students considering transferring “due to the current climate on many campuses,” you know something has gone horribly wrong.

Jewish students are fleeing hostility on campus just as Jews fled persecution in the Passover story. Jewish or not, we should all be concerned when whether it’s safe to be a Jew on campus is a consideration when choosing a college.

Yet, at this Passover, the sense of Jewish peoplehood has never been stronger. The Passover story is one of resilience, of overcoming extraordinary affliction and hardships and of reminding ourselves that there is beauty and sweetness to be found even in the darkest of times.

It is that part of the story I ensured was conveyed when American Jewish Committee hosted its Community Leadership Seder in Miami, which included guests from other faiths standing in solidarity with their Jewish friends and neighbors. 

We do not succumb to hatred - we ground ourselves with pride in our Jewish identity. We acknowledge the pain of persecution, both ancient and present, but we do not allow it to define us.

In May, we celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, which reminds all Americans of the countless contributions Jews have made and continue to make to the American story. It also reminds us that despite the hate and vitriol, it is still good to be a Jew in America.

At the conclusion of every Seder are the words “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is a prayer and expression of hope that all Jews will be able to celebrate Passover in freedom and peace and that we help bring about a more peaceful world. Let us all work toward this end.

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