2017-04-12 / Editorial

Passover, the ultimate refugee holiday, ties ancient Jews to modern struggles

As Jews in South Jersey and worldwide do without chametz to celebrate Passover, the plight of modern refugees is on the minds of many.

Passover, after all, is the ultimate refugee holiday. Every year we retell the ancient story of our flight from oppression, reciting the words “Arami Oved Avi,” sometimes translated as “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Aram is the Biblical name for the land that now comprises Syria. That our patriarch Jacob was one of the first Syrian refugees (whose descendents a few generations later once again were forced to flee hostile lands) ties our history to the current situation in that war-torn country.

The horrific chemical warfare strike in Syria that resulted in the brutal deaths of 72 people, including 20 children, recently has hit close to home in our ancestral land. Within days of the attack, Israelis had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims.

“No Jew can stay silent as children are being gassed in the streets of Syria,” IsraelGives says on its web page.

Similarly, many families incorporated special readings and rituals at their Seders tying our ancient flight to today’s global refugee crisis.

One ritual is the placement of a banana among other symbolic foods on the Seder plate. The fruit honors 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy of Kurdish background whose lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach in 2015 as he fled Syria with his family. The lone survivor, Aylan’s father described how his two young sons loved bananas, a luxury in war-torn Syria.

One new version of the Haggadah, from the American Jewish World Service, makes a direct connection between ancient and modern refugees: “Around the world today, courageous people are making similar journeys — leaving behind violence, poverty and persecution and seeking security, freedom, prosperity and peace.”

Next year may we all be free. Chag Sameach! 

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