On Passover night we begin the Seder by breaking the middle matzah. This important symbol, called yachatz, precedes the saying of the haggadah. Half of this matzah is hidden for the afikoman, which is then eaten at the end of the Seder. All the other important parts of the Seder and the blessings are conducted with a broken matzah.

But why do we take a good whole matzah and intentionally break it apart? Is it appropriate to use a damaged and broken matzah as the Seder’s centerpiece?

This unusual breaking of bread symbolizes the pain and poverty of our ancestors under Egyptian oppression. They ate crumbs, and had to carefully ration their food. Our forefathers were so poor that they had to divide and break up their meals, eat a little bit now and save the rest for later. The broken matzah reminds us of the poverty and hunger in those difficult times.

But that was back in Egypt under the Pharaohs.

What about the Jewish poor today? And I don’t mean the literally destitute and penniless, but the rich and affluent American Jewish community.

Thank G‑d, we don’t have to eat morsels or ration our food today. In fact, we are spoiled to the point that we want and expect to get everything. Yet, amid all this abundance we also suffer heartbreaking pain and poverty.

Like our broken matzah, we are divided, incomplete, and only half of what we should be. Let’s visualize the matzah as part of a circular graph, illustrating the breakdown of the contemporary Jewish family. Demographics show that Jews who identify as belonging to the community comprise only about half of the whole.

The other part of the community seems to be hiding, never to be seen at a Seder or any other Jewish function.

Assimilation is taking quite a bit out of us. Even as we sit comfortably at the Seder, surrounded by family and traditions, we must remember how the other half lives. We should remember that statistically, fifty percent of our people remain outside, uninterested and unaffiliated.

Even the affiliated Jews are further divided between the halves and the halve-nots. These are those Jews who think wholly of themselves, who selfishly look inward only to save “their own.” Then there are the halves, those of us who love and care for all our brethren, affiliated or not. The Torah teaches that we are all part of the whole, and responsible for each other.

It hurts to talk about our poverty, but knowing the problem is half the solution. We are spiritually impoverished. Assimilation is caused by poor Jewish education, poor Jewish upbringing and poor communal planning.

It was only half a century ago that Jewish identity was taken for granted. A general feeling of family, mishpoche, kept the community together with a minimum of observance and commitment. But that is no longer so.

Today we fully realize that it takes much more than bagels and lox or temple attendance to remain Jewish. Fiddler-on-the-Roof nostalgia doesn’t keep up the tradition. A halfhearted interest is insufficient to withstand the external pressures of an open society. Only personal involvement, a fulfilling Torah education and dynamic mitzvah observance will carry the future.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t despair. Optimistically, the matzah is half full, not half empty—for each individual person is a full world. (Talmud) We must do our best to strengthen wholesome Jewish education, involvement and identity, to prevent the matzah from crumbling any further.

Our community has become segmented and fragmented, yet we must work hard to pick up the pieces. We should reach out and keep in touch. We must welcome our knowing brethren in to enjoy the beauty and fulfillment of our common heritage. We have to search and look high and low until we find the missing pieces, the hiding afikoman, which brings the whole Seder together!