Welcome to Congregation Beth Israel

Beneath our dome is a spiritual home, a place of community and friendship, a place to be inspired through prayer, a place for lifelong learning, and a place where every person makes a difference.

Passover 5784

Passover 5784 will begin at sunset on Monday, April 22, 2024; please join us for programs in advance of and throughout the holiday.

Your Seder in a Time of War
Some Suggestions from Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana

The Passover seder is, by design, enormously flexible within its structure. Because it encourages conversation and disagreement, the seder is often highly relevant to its contemporary situation. 20th Century seders have been designed to respond to the Civil Rights Movement, Environmental Justice, LGBTQA+ Rights, the Women’s Movement, and the plight of Russian Jews during the Soviet Era.

But this year, Passover comes in perhaps the Jewish people’s most difficult times in the 21st Century. How can our seder this year respond to the reality of the war in Gaza and rising anti-Semitism here at home?

I see Passover and the seder itself as the most outward and inclusive of our Jewish holidays. The story itself, while focused on exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, is easily universalized as a symbol of freedom for all. And throughout our attention is turned to those outside our community who suffered. I take as my guide the famous midrash of the moments following the crossing of the Sea. The angels, we are told, wanted to sing their songs of praise, but G-d admonished them. Referring to Pharaoh’s defeated army, G-d cries out “My creatures (lit. the work of my hands) are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing songs?” (Ein Yaakov, Megillah 1:11). From this we learn that we do not rejoice even in the defeat of our enemies.

There are two moment in the Passover seder which I suggest we specifically modify during this year’s seder, in response to the war in Gaza.

1)   When we first hold up the matzah we declare (using the traditional text):

“This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt; let all those who are hungry, come and eat.”

This is a time to call out the hunger of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. We cannot ignore their pain, suffering and loss. The situation is changing rapidly and more humanitarian aid is getting in to Gaza. And yet, on this night we recall our own hunger when we fled oppression and did not even have time for our bread to rise. Throughout this seder and throughout this week as we eat the matzah, our bread of affliction, may we think of those innocents in Gaza – and others throughout the world, including in Sudan, and the streets of our cities, who are experiencing hunger. May we acknowledge our responsibility not to stand idly by.

2)   The four cups of wine are an important symbol of the Passover, representing our joy at receiving freedom and redemption through G-d’s actions. The second cup is used during the “maggid” section when we tell the story of Exodus. During the section when we recount the ten plagues, the custom is to remove ten drops of wine from the cup to reduce our own joy when we recall that innocent Egyptians suffered from those plagues.

This year, I suggest that no cup of wine is large enough to contain all the pain and suffering that war has brought to Palestinians in Gaza and to all the people in the State of Israel. No cup of wine is large enough to contain the pain of the families of the hostages still being held under terrorist guns in Gaza. This night, their families are holding Passover seders without their loved ones.

I suggest that our second cup of wine stay empty this year. Our joy is diminished until war is over, the threat of further war is ended, hunger in Gaza is ended and the hostages are returned home.

The seder moment when we call out the “bread of affliction” ends with the challenging statement: “This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.” May our seder this year be meaningful if challenging. And may next year’s seder be enjoyed in freedom for all.

Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
Senior Rabbi

Additional Resources

Adult Seder

Saturday, April 27
6:00 PM


Raise a glass (or four) at Portland’s Young Adult Seder. This musical, interactive Seder experience, led by Congregation Beth Israel’s Cantor Rayna Green, is a great way to connect with Jews in their 20s and 30s across the Portland area while enjoying a light Passover meal. $18/person, age 21 and over. This is a child-free gathering (but we hope to have family friendly events in the future!).


Please email chelsea@bethisrael-pdx.org with any questions!

With deep appreciation to our cosponsors: Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland Jewish Connection, Moishe House Pod, and PDX Hillel.



The Jennifer Barnum Luria Early Childhood Center is Open

Enrollment at The Jennie is now open for full- and part-time care; click here to secure your child’s spot!

We are currently accepting registration for all age groups, and classrooms will be opened throughout 2024 as spaces are filled. Once our classrooms are full, our waitlist placement will prioritize families who are members of Congregation Beth Israel, as well as those who already have a sibling enrolled at The Jennie. 

We will hold an open house for prospective families on Saturday. March 16 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM; please let us know if you plan to join us.