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WHO SITS WITH US AT OUR SEDER?
Eloheinu v'Elohei Kadmoneinu (Avoteinu, Avoteinu vEmoteinu), our God and God of our ancestors, we are gathered around this seder table as b'nei khorin, free people commanded to remember our dark nights of oppression. Your Torah warns us never to become oppressors ourselves, reminding us, "For you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have been Pharaoh to other peoples, and to the disadvantaged among our own people. Our awareness that "In every generation there are those who arise to destroy us" often causes us to harden our hearts, and perceive hatred where it does not exist. We therefore turn to You, as in days of old. Stand with us, so that our fears not rise up to be our taskmasters. Help us to banish Pharaoh from our hearts, and let others in. With Pharaoh at bay, we become more painfully aware of the desecration of Your Image found in every human being. As with the plagues of old, our joy is diminished when we hear of those whose lives remain embittered. "Hashata Avdei," "This year we remain slaves because of their oppression " We remove additional drops of wine from our cup of celebration and renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby completing ours. We make room in our hearts and at our table for (Choose one or more. One person can read out loud, and all participants can read the final line together):
Lili and Itzik Menashe. Lili and Itzik selflessly took care of Itzik's mother, living with her in her public housing apartment until she died. Itzik never knew another home, and Lili joined after they were married. However, they encountered difficulties conceiving, and their doctor felt that they needed to get away from the tension of Itzik's mother's frequent medical emergencies. They rented an apartment, spending a week there a month, and subletting to a nephew for the remainder of the time. They are now blessed with a son, but all three risk eviction because that apartment was deemed as disqualifying them to remain in their home after Itzik's mother died. Itzik had his drivers licence temporarily suspended, and could not longer work as a driver. The threat of eviction paralyzed Lili, and she lost her job. With the help of public housing activists, the threatened eviction has been several times postponed, but the tension is taking it's toll. Itzik and Lilia are not alone. Rachel and her daughter are still homeless, after last year's eviction. Families in "The Ma'abarah" could be on the street at any time. Many families in
limbo consider taking their lives, as did Moshe Sillman z"l. Tens of thousands of Israelis are in need of non-existent public housing, while others languish in apartments in dangerous states of disrepair. As we sing Adir Hu this Passover night and dream of the day when God's house will be built, we sit with Lili and Itzik, and know that we must first build homes for all of our fellow citizens.
Helmi Abdul-Aziz. Helmi was shot in the stomach and critically injured when he came to the aid of elderly relatives being attacked by Israelis in the Palestinian village of Qusra. The area has long been tense, and has been even more so since RHR helped Fawzi Hussein plow lands underneath the Eish Kodesh outpost that had long been a "forbidden zone." Hanging between life and death, the Israeli army evacuated him on a breathing machine from a Nablus hospital to Hadassah, Ein Kerem, where his condition has thankfully stabilized. The Egyptians punished us for seeking freedom and justice. We invite Helmi to our seder table, and all those who today pay the price we once paid.
Gabriel Kuol fled for his life from South Sudan to Egypt. Again feeling his life in danger, he tumbled over the border into Israel with an Egyptian bullet in his leg. His love and gratitude to Israel faded as the situation deteriorated. First asylum seekers were forbidden to work, then they suffered beatings when they tried to renew their residency permits, which were eventually revoked. Gabriel was detained and deported, leaving all of his possessions behind. He nearly died of malaria back in South Sudan" The 60,000 African asylum seekers remaining are demonized and our border is now closed. The "anti infiltration law" allows them to be imprisoned for over three years, and even those from countries so dangerous that the law prevents their deportation have been encouraged to "Leave voluntarily" As we open our doors to invite all who are hungry to come and eat, we remember the many doors closed to us over long years of persecution. This Passover, may we open our hearts and our borders to those fleeing for their lives. Like Gabriel, our ancestor was a wandering Aramean, and we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Sheikh Sayakh. The exhaustion shows on the Sheikh's face. His tribe's homes in El-Arakib in the Negev have been reduced to pitiful lean–tos, and even these have been demolished over 40 times. RHR has helped to temporarily halt JNF forests closing, and thankfully the High Court has overruled the State and ordered the District Court to hear their ownership claims. However, the judges warned that it would not be easy to explain why they didn't challenge the expropriation of their lands in 1953, an expropriation they claim they only discovered in 2000. There is less certainty in Sheikh Sayakh's voice when he says that he is counting on us, and he no longer expresses faith in Israeli justice.
Perhaps he has visions of the cemetery of his "unrecognized" Bedouin village in the middle of a JNF forest offering silent testimony that his tribe lived here for generations. The families of Al Arakib are but some of the 40,000 Israeli Bedouin in danger of being forced from their homes if government plans are approved by the Knesset. Celebrating the seder in the security of our homes, we commit ourselves this night to guaranteeing a home for all. We must make sure that Sheikh Sayakh has a place at our table, and must work in the coming year so that our national home rests on a foundation of justice.
Ruti Kedem. An unemployed single parent mom, Ruti decided to pursue a degree in archaeological preservation, so that she could become self supporting. RHR helped her through bureaucracy attempting to make her choose between welfare payments and a tuition stipend. However, as she neared graduation, a new vindictive case worker said "Here, people don’t go to school." She lost her welfare payments because she didn't accept jobs that would not have allowed her to continue her studies. Ruti thankfully now has her degree, is employed, and no longer needs welfare, but is fighting with us to get retroactive payments to pay off debts she incurred after welfare was cut off, and to get a legal precedent so that others won't face the same dilemma. We remember this night how the Egyptians tried to break our ancestors by demanding they begin to gather their own straw, while maintaining the same quota of bricks. We must not break those trying to better their lives through cruel and impossible demands. Ruti and those like her must have their place sitting among those supporting themselves with dignity.
Nasser Nawaje. Nasser was a young boy in 1986 when he, his family and all the Palestinian villagers of Susya in the South Hebron Hills were expelled because their home was declared an archaeological site. They moved into nearby caves on their lands, only to see the army demolish their caves and try to expel them again. Israel's High Court returned them, but they were told that everything built to replace their caves was illegal. Nasser is known and hated by the area's settlers for his work documenting human rights abuses, helping RHR to prevent and even roll back land takeovers. In response the settlers and "Regavim" have gone to court demanding that the army demolish almost the village. Nasser told us, "When they came to demolish our homes in 1986, there was nothing we could do because we were all alone. We are again in great danger, but we are not alone any more." As God has stood with our ancestors, we resolve this night to stand with Nasser.
"Even ma'asu habonim - The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. "As we joyfully recite these words of Hallel as a part of our seder, we pledge to build a homeland with a place for all those who are today rejected, ignored or oppressed.
Tonight, they all have a place at our table. Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh's command.
We have prevented the evictions of Israelis from public housing and returned Palestinians to lands controlled by settlers. El Arkib will be get their day in court, and Na'amat has signed a contract with allow the Ma'abarah housing collective allowing us to use an abandoned property a base for public housing advocacy. Ruti supports herself.
MAY THESE GLIMPSES OF WHAT COULD BE STRENGTHEN OUR RESOLVE TO STRIVE FOR WHAT MUST BE: NEXT YEAR IN A JERUSALEM REDEEMED THROUGH JUSTICE ******************
The Four Children at the Seder Table: Which Child Am I?
As we celebrate this Holiday of Freedom, the ending of slavery, we ask, "Who am I, when I hear of human rights abuses? Who will I choose to be when I know that others are suffering?" Will I be one who does not ask? Will I close the newspaper or turn off the television, the computer or the mobile device so that I do not hear or see? Will I turn my head and heart away? Will I ask only simple questions? "What is this?" Will I ask what, but never why? Will I let the evil impulse, my yetzer hara ask: "What has this to do with me?" Will I let the problem belong only to the victims and the do-gooders? Will I distance myself from those in need? Or will I strive to act in wisdom, to ask: "What are the underlying causes of the problem and what needs to be done to stop the abuse and free the oppressed? What are the laws and what does Gd expect of me?" May Gd open the eyes of those who do not see, the mouths of those who do not ask, and the hearts of those who do not care, and grant us the wisdom to open our hands to our fellow humans when they are in need - the hand of generosity, the hand of support, the hand of peace and friendship.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Commentary to the Torah,
You shall not wrong a resident alien or oppress him, for you were resident alien's in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:20
The great, meta-principle is oft-repeated in the Torah that it is not race, not descent, not birth nor country of origin, nor property, nor anything external or due to chance, but simply and
purely the inner spiritual and moral worth of a human being, that gives him/her all the rights of a human being and of a citizen. This basic principle is further protected against infringement by the additional explanation, "For you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt." Your entire misfortune in Egypt was that you were “foreigners” and “aliens." As such, according to the views of other nations, you had no right to be there, had no claim to property, to homeland, or to a dignified existence. It was permissible to do to you whatever they wished. As gerim, your rights were denied in Egypt. This was the source of the slavery and wretchedness imposed upon you. Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making human rights in your own state conditional on anything other than on the basic humanity which every human being as such bears within him/her by virtue of being human. Any suppression of these human and civil rights opens the gate to the indiscriminate use of power and abuse of human beings to the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings that was the root of abomination of Egypt. Do not "wrong", Do not "oppress"…means to be illegally deprived of material or spiritual possessions…[thus, the full implication is] - Neither by words nor by deeds shall you hurt a ger…[and] here the admonition against differentiating against gerim is directed primarily to the state as such. It is not to practice any discrimination and injustice against gerim because they are gerim.. It is not to impose heavier taxes or grant lesser rights than it does to the native-born; and in no ways is it to restrict them in the free exercise of any means of gaining their livelihood…The main point is not to limit where s/he can live, or taking away his/her hold on his/her possessions.
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