This weekend, Jews in Arizona and around the world will begin celebrating Passover, the eight-day festival commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from oppression in Egypt.
What families and friends look forward to most, however, is probably the Passover Seder on the first night, when we gather to enjoy a meal of matzah, bitter herbs, charoset (a paste apples and nuts) and much more. .
But in addition to delicious food and great conversation, we recite and study the history of the Jewish people via the Haggadah, as the tradition says, we are compelled to relive the experience of liberation, imagining each time that we are personally those who come out of Egypt. .
Today, as we watch the journey of Ukrainian refugees, Afghan refugees and asylum seekers from Central America, my community is deeply touched by the function of the Passover narrative to cultivate spiritual empathy for all Human being.
With nearly 4 million refugees displaced from Ukraine and the number of refugees worldwide at an all-time high, the increased moral clarity that Passover provides is badly needed.
We can see their stories reflected in our haggadah. We can experience their tears with our salt water. We can feel charged to support them. The Passover “worked” spiritually if we returned after the feast engaged and ready to serve.
We are called to relive this journey during the Passover
This Passover season, our thoughts should be centered on the needs of the refugee and asylum communities. As we imagine ourselves coming out of Egypt, we must remember that we are not telling simple historical facts the way a textbook might tell them. We actively participate in the transmission of the memory of freedom.
My wife, Shoshana, makes the best challah, traditional Jewish bread that is made with care and beauty, which takes a lot of time.
But during Passover, we eat matzah, which is made without the luxury of leavening time.
Remembering the haste of the Israelites to prepare this minimal food as they rushed out of slavery in Egypt, we can taste and imagine the experiences of those around the world who had to leave their homes within so short.
Here at Arizona Jews for Justice (a Valley Beit Midrash project), we have collected thousands of urgently needed supplies donated to refugees and asylum seekers. This includes often-overlooked basics like shower gel, toilet paper, and deodorant. By being commanded to remember what we would need in an emergency trip, we internalize and act on our obligation to come to the aid of others.
As we approach Passover, we must remember that we are going to imagine ourselves in the Passover story.
Freedom can influence the way we live our lives
Tragically, others around the world, especially on our southern border, are not just re-enacting the story of the Book of Exodus, but living it in real life. The mitzvah of celebrating the Passover therefore calls us to participate in the pursuit of freedom and justice for all.
We can respectfully disagree on the politics of nuances around border policy and the number of refugees to be admitted each year. However, all of us attached to religious and spiritual ideals cannot disagree on the need for compassion for the displaced.
My main source of religious motivation on this subject is the Passover story, which inspires a deep moral imagination.
For those of us who do not celebrate this holiday, or who have other celebrations available to us, perhaps we can find universal inspiration in the particular call to let liberation values influence the way we live our lives.
Just as the Israelites had to flee Pharaoh in hopes of reaching the Promised Land, Ukrainians today must flee their persecution in the hope of finding their own refuge.
Will we welcome them with open arms? Or block them at the border with skepticism about their values and intentions? And how about others from other countries aligned with their own unique narrative?
We recently hosted a young mother from Central America and her 2-year-old daughter, asylum seekers, at our home for one night after their release. While I couldn’t communicate with them in Spanish, my little girl was playing and laughing quickly with this young girl. Our children can teach us a new potential for love and sharing.
When I am at my Passover Seder this year, I will be proud to be an American living in the state of Arizona, and I will be proud that we celebrate not only our unity but also our diversity.
We must welcome refugees of all races and religions. This is what makes America a project to fight for when viewed in light of the Passover story.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash and leader of Arizona Jews for Justice. He is the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Contact him at [email protected].