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This Passover, Combine Respect for Tradition with the Courage to Innovate

A Passover Seder table. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Kissinger once famously said, “Whenever you have two alternatives, the first thing you have to do is to look for the third that you didn’t think about, that doesn’t exist.”

With Kissinger’s recent passing at the advanced age of 100, much has been written about the legacy of the 20th century’s greatest statesman, and particularly how he mastered the art of thinking outside the box, while respecting the box itself as the foundational framework of diplomacy.

In the early 1970s, amid a sharply divided Cold War world, Kissinger — then National Security Advisor in President Nixon’s administration — orchestrated a groundbreaking diplomatic maneuver that would reshape global politics: the opening of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Kissinger’s approach was innovative yet deeply grounded in existing diplomatic structures. His secret 1971 trip to Beijing, facilitated through discreet communications and intermediaries, exemplified his belief in the power of traditional diplomacy, creatively applied. By leveraging established channels in unconventional ways, Kissinger not only bridged a vast ideological divide but also set the stage for a new era in international relations.

This bold initiative showed that although the “box” — namely: the existing structures of international diplomacy — provides necessary stability and continuity, stepping just beyond its traditional bounds can lead to transformative outcomes. Kissinger’s diplomatic accomplishment showed the value of maintaining a delicate balance between innovation and tradition, a lesson that remains pertinent as we navigate today’s complex global landscape.

And considering Kissinger’s Orthodox Jewish roots, perhaps it is not such a surprise that he intuitively understood this concept. After all, he grew up with Pesach and Seder night. The idea of thinking outside the box while respecting the box itself was deeply embedded in his Jewish DNA.

Just as Kissinger navigated the complexities of international diplomacy, so too does the Pesach Seder navigate the balance between rigid structure and the necessity for creative engagement. Each year, as families worldwide prepare for Pesach, they revisit the ancient traditions and rituals that define this pivotal Jewish holiday.

Central to the festival’s observance is the Seder, a ceremonial dinner on the first night of the festival, and outside Israel, on the second night as well. The theme of the Seder is retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. However, despite the ritual’s deeply structured nature, the Seder is ripe for incorporating spontaneity and creativity.

2017 study from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management highlights a paradox that transcends cultural and religious boundaries: structure, while simplifying comprehension and organization of our surroundings, can significantly stifle creativity. The research, which was led by doctoral candidate Yeun Joon Kim and Professor Chen-Bo Zhong, drew on several experiments, including one involving LEGO bricks.

It turned out that participants asked to assemble a model from LEGO bricks sorted by color and shape exhibited noticeably less creativity than those who were given a box of randomly assorted bricks. The findings, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, suggest that over-structuring and over-planning can dampen the innovative spirit.

The Seder is intricately designed with a series of rituals and readings from the Haggadah — the text that guides the evening’s proceedings. Steeped in structure — indeed, the Hebrew word “Seder” means “order — at first glance, it would appear that this deliberate organization is critical, ensuring that the multifaceted story of the Exodus is presented in a comprehensive and accurate manner, allowing each participant to follow the chronological progression from slavery to freedom in a well-honed and immutable framework.

But this first impression is wrong. Despite its structure, the Seder is uniquely conducive to creativity and personal expression. The readings from the Haggadah, while fixed, are not just about droning on about a passive version of ancient events. Instead, the Haggadah’s readings serve as a springboard for discussion, questioning, and exploration.

The narrative is crafted not just to be told, but to be engaged with; it calls for each participant to delve into the meanings, themes, and moral questions inherent in the ancient story. This engagement is vital to the educational mission of the Seder, which aims not only to transmit historical knowledge but to instill a deeper understanding and personal connection to the events of the Exodus.

Besides, although the Haggadah provides a set script, it is replete with obvious cues for personal input and interpretive freedom. It incorporates various symbols and rituals — like the eating of bitter herbs or the spilling of wine — which are designed to evoke sensory responses and emotional reactions that transcend mere verbal storytelling. These elements are invitations for participants to reflect on the harshness of slavery and the sweetness of liberation, integrating their own narratives with the ancient text.

The Seder’s structure also includes several built-in moments specifically intended to provoke discussion and participation, such as the asking of the Four Questions. Traditionally posed by the youngest at the table, these questions about why this night differs from all other nights shouldn’t just prompt answers, but a lively exchange of ideas and interpretations — and, more importantly: even more questions. The Seder is not a monolith; it values the insights and curiosities of all its participants, regardless of age or scholarly background.

In essence, the Seder exemplifies a dynamic interplay between tradition and innovation, much like Henry Kissinger’s approach to diplomacy. While it adheres to a predetermined order that ensures the story of the Exodus is told with fidelity and depth, it simultaneously encourages a creative engagement that makes each Seder a unique and deeply personal experience.

This blend of structure and spontaneity not only enriches the ritual itself but also reinforces its enduring relevance, inviting each generation to find its own meaning and message in the ancient tale of liberation. In remembering Kissinger’s legacy, we are reminded of the power of balancing respect for tradition with the courage to innovate — a principle that continues to resonate both at the Seder table and, hopefully, in the broader world. This principle reminds us that in the interstices of rigid structures lie the opportunities for transformative creativity and enduring change.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction

Toronto Police have arrested and charged a man for assault over an incident May 9 near the protest encampment at the University of Toronto’s King’s College Circle on its downtown campus.  Toronto Police Services (TPS) say they responded at 3:45 p.m. that day to a call for assault in the area of the road around […]

The post Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Any Chance the Media Would Cover This?’ New Video Shows Terrorists in Gaza Using Humanitarian Aid to Help Prepare Rockets

Terrorists in Gaza using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets. Photo: Screenshot

Terrorists in Gaza have been using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets they were preparing to shoot at Israelis, new video circulating on social media reveals, underscoring the challenges of delivering aid to Palestinian civilians in the Hamas-ruled enclave without it being stolen.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which is the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbasused bags from Turkey and UNRWA — the UN agency responsible for the Palestinians — to prop up the rockets, according to the video.

At least three of the bags say they contain “wheat flour,” and the bag from Turkey specifically says it is supposed to go “to the Palestinian people.” It is unclear whether the bags had previously been opened to extract the food and then refilled with sand, for example, or if it still contained the food that was intended to feed Palestinian civilians.

“Any chance the media would cover this, yet another violation of international humanitarian law?” pro-Israel commentator Hen Mazzig wrote on X/Twitter while sharing the video.

Rafah, Gaza: Hamas is using UN humanitarian aid bags as rocket launchers today.

Any chance the media would cover this, yet another, violation of International Humanitarian Law?

— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) May 29, 2024

Almost every day for the past seven months, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations have been shooting rockets into Israel from civilian areas, which is a war crime. Tens of thousands of Israelis are internally displaced and unable to return to their homes as a result.

There is mounting evidence that Hamas has also operated in civilian clothing and in civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. However, these violations of international law are rarely noted by much of the media.

The latest video of terrorists using humanitarian aid for military purposes underscores the issue of making sure such aid gets to Palestinian civilians. 

The US built a pier to deliver 2,000,000 meals daily to Palestinian civilians, but after a few weeks of operation, the Pentagon said none of the aid unloaded from the pier had made it to those who needed it. On one occasion, about 70 percent of the aid has been stolen while en route to a UN warehouse. In other cases, it just never showed up.

Israeli estimates suggest approximately 60 percent of the aid that has gone into Gaza has been stolen — either by Hamas or other groups and individuals. Oftentimes, that aid is then sold to the population at high prices, making it difficult to impossible for most Gazans to gain access to it. 

According to Ehud Yaari, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas has made more than $500 million in profit from selling humanitarian aid since Oct. 7.

The terror group began the war last October by massacring 1,200 people in Israel and taking more than 250 people hostage, about half of whom have still not been released.

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Columbia University Anti-Zionist Group Endorses Hamas

Demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel demonstration at the Columbia University campus, in New York City, US, Feb. 2, 2024. REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has endorsed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace antisemitic violence.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

.@Columbia and @BarnardCollege, @ColumbiaSJP is actively promoting terrorism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their social media channels. They are sounding more and more like Hamas spokespeople every day. When is the university going to permanently ban this “student group”?

— Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus (@CampusJewHate) May 26, 2024

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has reformed under multiple organizations since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, has been central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The group’s behavior after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the StandWithUs Center for League Justice (SCLJ).

The complaint alleges that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, the pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library, according to the lawsuit. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Following the incidents, pleas for help allegedly went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while SJP held its demonstrations. The school’s apparent powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

The explosion of end-of-year protests held by the group forced Columbia officials to shutter the campus in April and institute virtual learning. Later, the group occupied Hamilton Hall, forcing President Minouche Shafik to call on the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for help, a decision she hesitated to make. According to The Columbia Spectator, over 108 arrests were made.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Amid the chaos, a prominent rabbi at the school urged Jewish students to leave the campus for the sake of their safety. Ultimately, the university cancelled its main commencement ceremony.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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