By Eskinder Negash
Chag Pesach Sameach.
For all faiths, holidays are a constant reminder of our past history and traditions. This Passover season is another reminder of the spiritual link of the Jewish people to the universal refugee migration experience. The rituals of the Passover seder are replete with the symbols of persecution, flight and a determination for freedom and sanctuary.
The bitter herb on the seder plate signifies the enslavement of the Jewish people under Egypt’s pharaohs. The salt water represents the tears shed during their persecution—the unending backbreaking labor, the decree to kill their firstborn and the unrelenting mortification of enslavement. The exodus, or flight, is symbolized by the matzoh, or unleavened bread. And after wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses found their sanctuary in the promised land. Persecution. Flight. Sanctuary.
“You know the feelings of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).
The obligation to care for the stranger is so important to the values of the Jewish people and one we all share. There are more laws concerning the treatment of strangers than any other law in Judaism, which includes mention of the economic hardships endured by foreigners in the land of the Israelites. This Passover is a celebration of many things, Like all holidays, it is also a time when many of us gather with families–however we define the family–and celebrate not just with the seder plate before us, but also the people in our lives with whom we are privileged to share it.
The COVID-19 pandemic requires us to keep physically apart. Yet perhaps the absence of our loved ones and our guests at the Passover table this year can serve as an added reminder of the obligation to remember the millions of refugees and immigrants across the world who have fled persecution in search of freedom and sanctuary and a place to call home.
At your Passover this week, while you are thinking about your family and loved ones who are not with you for this joyful celebration of freedom for the Jewish people, please remember the strangers among us who are suffering from the loss of home. This pandemic will pass, and we will all return to our normal lives. But the strangers among us will continue to endure hardships unless we all honor our obligations to those who have been persecuted and forced to find sanctuary among us.
This kind of pervasive and far-reaching global event reminds us all that we share one planet and our lives are inextricably linked together in an unbroken chain of humanity. Our thoughts are with everyone in this one, vast global family that extends across borders and knows no nationality.