Question: How can we tell that President Donald Trump has been influenced by his Orthodox family members?
Answer: He decided to clean out his cabinet before Passover.
In our binary Jewish community, some will smile in response, including those who take pride that the president has a religiously observant daughter and son-in-law who are sending his grandchildren to a Jewish day school. Others may find little humor associated with the president, and are embarrassed and confused by the fact that some, including many ritually pious Jews, praise a national leader whose salacious personal behavior they manage to ignore — or dismiss as untrue or irrelevant.
Similarly, there are some in the Jewish community here and in Israel who herald the Trump administration as the best ever for Israel’s interests, underscored this past week by his naming Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser. Both men are outspoken supporters of the Israeli government and its policies, and critics of the Iran nuclear deal. Others fear that Trump now has created a war cabinet that will endorse ending the Iran agreement and call for military action, which could imperil Israel, the region, and the world.
We don’t know if and how Passover will be commemorated in the White House this weekend, but there is a reason why the seder is the most observed ritual in Jewish homes, and the Haggadah the most updated and commented-upon of Jewish texts. That’s because its central theme of freedom from slavery is eternal, and universal. It is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago when, according to tradition, the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian bondage by “the outstretched hand” of God.
At seders around the world, some will recite the original Haggadah text and focus on the historical Exodus, imagining themselves among those crossing the Red Sea. Others will apply current interpretations that have meaning in their lives. It may be young people calling for changes in gun laws so that they can go to school without fear; human rights advocates striving to prevent the eviction of African migrants who sought freedom in Israel; or women feeling a sense of deliverance from longstanding male dominance in the workplace.
As talk of war in the Mideast increases almost daily, there are authentic Jewish voices reminding us of the devastation that comes with it. Rabbi Simcha Krauss, who long held a pulpit in Queens and now heads the International Beit Din seeking to free more women from agunot status, reminded congregants at The Riverdale Minyan in the Bronx this past Shabbat why no blessing is recited on burning the last of the chametz on the eve of Pesach. He cited sources suggesting that when something is destroyed, there can be no blessing.
With that in mind, he urged all segments of the Jewish community to find ways to respect each other.
On seder night we open our homes and our hearts, reading from the Haggadah: “let all who are hungry come and eat.” It is our duty to “tell the story,” not only of our going out of Egypt but of our efforts, every day, to help repair the world.