Usually, we focus on these words in the spring when they are read aloud at the Passover seder. However, I have thought about them a lot recently. There has been a great deal of focus on refugees. Whether those amassed at the US border, those from Afghanistan, or countless others outside the news spotlight, there is a current human crisis that should tug at our hearts. Leaving home, seeking a better, safer life – these speak directly to the experience of the Jewish people.
Each year at Passover, and even during the recent festival of Sukkot, we are reminded that our history is steeped in the refugee experience. We know what it is to be forced to wander through unfamiliar (and often unfriendly) terrain; heading to places we had heard of but did not know well and ultimately facing the challenge of settling and becoming acclimated, all with a good measure of uncertainty and unwelcoming neighbors.
I know the topic can often devolve into political arguments, but my Jewish n’shamah (soul) cannot help but resonate with the plight of the refugee. To my way of thinking, what they are forced to do is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Leaving one’s home, taking very little of your life, and moving without being certain of where you end up, how you provide for yourself and your family, and with the understanding that you will be unwelcome by some or many in your new destination. As a community, we have been through that journey, which often moves us to think and say, “How can we help?”
Last week, I joined in a phone call sponsored by the White House. With faith leaders and a few government officials, the conversation focused on current refugees, especially those from Afghanistan. I was surprised to hear most are residing in army bases across the United States. COVID-19 protocols dictated they be quarantined for 21 days before being settled anywhere. Now at the end of the three weeks, the work of resettling them is set to begin.
A few TBE partners have reached out and asked what we might do to support the refugees. As the government and various organizations and charities gear up, whether helping individuals or families directly or by providing goods, services and funds for organizations doing the work, there should be plenty of ways to help out. Our incredible Social Action Committee, I know, will be on top of any efforts from this community and I hope many of you reading this will be inclined to lend your help.
Whether you give or not, I would at least ask all of us to open our hearts. In some ways, it is hard for most of us to truly to know what it is like to be forced out of your home, to relocate to a place with an unfamiliar language, different cultural norms and practices, and with people some of whom have made it known you not entirely welcome. But as we remind ourselves every year, we were wandering once. How lucky we are that we found our place, made a home, grew to become not only welcomed but part of the society that grew and thrived. And we should do what we can to make that same path possible for others.