As we prepare for Passover, we ask an important question; What does it mean to be free? 

As Americans, we understand freedom to be, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to assemble. While we have those freedoms, we also understand that with freedom comes responsibility. We know we cannot yell, ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater or building if there is no fire. We know that when we assemble, it should be peaceful and not incite acts of violence. The press is to have access to report on events, hopefully truthfully, and freedom of religion should allow each person to believe and practice religion in a safe space. 

With the rise of anti-semitism, it feels as if, yes, there is freedom of religion, but is there safety of religion? Most of us have experienced when we visit synagogues or Jewish community centers there are guards outside or one has to ring a call button to access the building. On Saturday mornings, some synagogues have guards and police cars parked outside for additional security. And sometimes these guards are armed, just like our Israeli friend Roe who greeted Jodi and me at a meeting in which we heard survivors from the Nova Festival speak. 

In a little over a week, as we sit down at our seder meals during which we celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt, we also ask ourselves, what does it mean for us to experience freedom of religion without the fear of our being safe?  In many ways, we are very fortunate as HaNefesh. We are a primarily online community with no building that requires constant security and guards. And when we do gather, our location is private until people register. The biggest threat we worry about is cyberbullying, and honestly, we’ve been very fortunate. (puh puh puh – for my yiddisheh mamas)

While we take precautions for the safety of religion, we also should not allow it to prevent us from celebrating and sharing our Judaism outwardly and gathering together. May we not be afraid to wear our Stars of David necklaces or Hebrew shirts; may we not be afraid to sing out loud when we celebrate Havdalah together; may we not be afraid to be and express our Judaism. May we always proudly say, Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live and will live in the bright light of day and with peace and we will not be afraid to be and do Jewish.