Discussion About Haggadah, History and Freedom Draws Hundreds

Pre-Passover Event Offers a Stimulating Mix of Lectures, Workshops and Conversations

On Sunday April 7, 2019, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought presented Haggadah, History and Freedom in partnership with Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the Millie Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon Program and the Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon Program. Over 300 people attended this special event, which gave an informative and insightful look into the story of Passover through the prisms of Jewish history, American history, literature, psychology and philosophy.

The program started with opening remarks by Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, where he stated his appreciation for the Straus Center’s dedication to exploring the Jewish roots of the great Western ideas. He also noted the unique place Yeshiva University occupies in creating the intellectual space to hold these important conversations and spread Torah values to the world because, as Dr. Berman said, “Torat Emet [The Torah of Truth] is at our core.” He also praised the Straus Center for reminding people that “the holiday of Pesach [Passover] is not just about freedom, it also unites Jews all over the world around a common purpose.”

Dr. Ari Berman addresses an attentive audience about the meaning of Pesach.

Following Dr. Berman’s remarks, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, gave the keynote lecture. Titled “Love, Hate and Ha Lachma Anya: A Tale of Pesach 70 CE,” Rabbi Soloveichik discussed the theme of freedom and unity found in “This is The Bread of Affliction,” a passage recited at the Passover seder. “Only a free and proud people can share with others,” he noted, drawing a deep connection between Passover and Tisha B’av (the fast of the ninth of Av), while touching upon the history of the American Civil War and the political landscape of the State of Israel during its founding. He reminded the audience that “Pesach night exemplifies that we are one people” and stressed the importance of the Jewish nation embodying unity.

After Rabbi Soloveichik’s lecture, members of the audience attended one of four breakout sessions given by distinguished scholars: Vehigadeta Levincha: Psychological Insights into Teaching Religious Concepts to Children (Dr. Lisa Chalik, assistant professor of psychology at Stern College for Women); Moshe: From Sinai to the Civil War (Rabbi Ari Lamm, special advisor to the president and Straus Center alumnus); The Ethics of the Exodus and the List of Four the Haggadah Doesn’t Tell You About (Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern, senior advisor to the provost and senior program officer of the Straus Center); and Saving a Nation of Thousands of Faces: Moshe’s Donkey and Dostoyevsky’s Confession (Rabbi Dov Lerner, incoming Straus Center Resident Scholar).

Rounding out the event was a fascinating public conversation titled “Lincoln’s Yahrzeit: Pesach, Freedom and the Jews.” Rabbi Soloveichik, Dr. Dara Horn (novelist and Straus Center distinguished visiting faculty) and Prof. Harold Holzer (renowned Lincoln scholar and Straus Center distinguished visiting faculty) discussed the connections between Pesach, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War in a wide-ranging discussion about national memory (both American and Jewish), the preservation of history in both art and literature and contemporary freedom.

(l-r): Dara Horn, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Prof. Harold Holzer

The next Straus Center event is “Churchill: Walking with Destiny: A Conversation between Rabbi Meir Soloveichik and Andrew Roberts” at 8pm on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at Congregation Shearith Israel (2 West 70th Street). RSVPs can be sent to strauscenter@yu.edu.