|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. We have vowed never to become oppressors ourselves. Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that we may be Pharaoh in the liberation tales of other peoples, or even the disadvantaged among our own people, who still feel themselves to be slaves in Egypt. Like Pharaoh, we are capable of oppressing when we feel threatened. There are times when we are truly endangered, and times when our belief that “In every generation there are those who arise to destroy us” causes us to perceive hatred where it does not exist. How easy it becomes to harden our hearts to those who have paid an excessive price for our people’s prosperity and security. Our experience as victims blinds us to the possibility that we can be both victims and victimizers at the same time. To be truly free we must banish Pharaoh from our hearts and reaffirm our commitment to honor God’s Image in every human being. Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh’s command.
Tonight we leave a place at our table for victims of oppression. We renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby insuring ours. We particularly remember: (Choose one or more)
A. Israeli Democracy. First they attacked the courts and judges, and we didn’t protest. We aren’t judges, and clearly the courts are an elite that doesn’t represent the people or Jewish values. Next they attacked Israeli Arabs, “No citizenship without loyalty.” We didn’t protest because we aren’t Arabs, and Arabs aren’t Zionists. Next they attacked peace organizations. We didn’t protest because, “That’s politics.” After that they came for human rights organizations, and we didn’t protest because human rights organizations called for an independent Israeli investigation into the Gaza war. ”They collaborate with the enemy.” With the help of the Jewish community abroad, some of the most egregious proposed laws have been defeated or emptied of content, but some have passed and some tens of anti democratic proposals are still pending.
When this night we open the door for Elijah, who will be waiting for us on the other side?
B. Civilians in Gaza and the Western Negev, and Gilad Shalit. Another year has passed since that terrible war. Gilad is still captive and Gazans still live blockaded. The residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the Western Negev have again become targets. On both sides of the border, civilians tremble in fear as the dogs of war approach.
Tonight, their fear is our fear. If are truly free this evening, we are free to choose. May it be Your Will that we choose life, peace and human dignity for ourselves and for others. In so doing, may we turn enemies into friends (Pirkei Avot D’Rabi Natan) Next year, may Gilad Shalit be free to celebrate Passover with his family and may civilians live free of fear.
C. Residents of Public Housing. Some 50,000 Israelis are on the waiting list for public housing, while the threat of eviction threatens to rip even this last safety net for those thankful for these oft times substandard apartments. The Zohar family of Beit Sha’an was homeless for months after suffering eviction, the Miskani family waited six years for Amidar to stop water from dripping into electrical boxes, and countless others wait for essential repairs. Just as the Egyptians believed their superiority allowed them to treat the Israelites however they wished (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch), so the officials of Amidar and other public housing companies feel free to ignore tenant’s rights or manufacture debts based on charges they themselves can’t explain.
As we sing Adir Hu and dream of the day when God will build God’s house, we know that neither the Temple nor our national home can be built when we harden our hearts to declare that those without means are less worthy than we. Celebrating the seder in the security of our homes, we commit ourselves this night to work in the coming year so that our National Home rests on a foundation of justice.
D. Residents of East Jerusalem. The Ghawi, Hanoun and El-Kurd families of Sheikh Jarakh remain homeless, the Israeli court has ruled that all the residents of Um El Arun can be expelled, and additional families are in the midst of court proceedings. They have been expelled “legally” by court order because of alleged pre-1948 Jewish ownership, but no court will send them back to their pre-1948 homes. In Issawiyah, rather than approving zoning plans to ease the housing shortage, a new plan has been approved to take land for a “national park.” In Silwan, police regularly fire tear gas at worshipers reciting the Friday prayers in the tent protesting the threatened demolition of 86 homes to make way for an archaeological park. As tensions rise, hundreds of children have been rounded up and arrested indiscriminately because the police can’t identify those throwing stones at them or the settlers living in armed enclaves in the midst of the neighborhood. Even when their cause was just, the Israelites were enjoined to stay in their homes when the angel of death passed over Egypt because even one’s cause is just, contact with violence corrupts (R. Tammarat) The violence brewing in East Jerusalem threatens to engulf us all.
“Our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.” This night we remember that all have the right to a home.
E. Villages Bordering the Settlements and Outposts of the Nablus Region. This month, Abu-Wael of Farata discovered another 143 of his olive trees chopped down next to the Khavat Gilad outpost, and another trailer home placed on his land. This after he was detained and left without water for hours in the sun on October 15th because he asked soldiers to stop the Israelis who were burning down hundreds of trees in front of his eyes. Israelis regularly descend from the Har Brakha and Yitzhar settlements to stone homes, set fire to fields and trees, and to sew fear in the surrounding villages. Legitimately trying to catch the perpetrators of the murderers of the Fogel family in their beds, the army has crossed red line between legitimate investigation and collective punishment in Awarta. Women are torn from their children in the middle of the night and houses are left in shambles.
This night, we recall that the one who stood with our ancestors in our trials of oppression stands with all who are oppressed. We recommit to being God’s partners to protect, replant, and again make the olive tree a symbol of peace.
F. Sudanese Refugees. “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord…because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt…”(Deuteronomy 23:4) Fleeing the carnage of Darfur and unwelcome in Egypt, Sudanese refugees come to Israel’s borders assuming that they will find refuge among those who have known too often the terror of being refused asylum . However, they are turned back from closed borders. The lucky ones who have made it across have been imprisoned for months and longer, some of them eventually released. Samuel (not real name) saw much of his family murdered in Southern Sudan and was himself imprisoned. Helped to escape before he too was murdered, he became a translator in Egypt. However, his life was again in danger because Egyptians thought he “knew to much.” At first imprisoned in Israel, he now helps fellow refugees.
G. El Arakib. Their homes demolished some 22 times, as JNF/KKL forests close in from all directions, even though courts have not yet made a final determination who owns the land. The cemetery of this “unrecognized” Bedouin village in the Negev offers silent testimony as to who has lived on this land for generations.
As we open the door this night in remembrance of how generations lived in fear of who might be waiting outside, our hearts are with those who live in terror of the bulldozers that can arrive again at any moment.
Opening 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 night we open our hearts to refugees and commit to opening our borders.
DISTURBED BY THE INJUSTICES ABIDING IN OUR MIDST, WE ALSO GIVE THANKS THIS NIGHT FOR THE UNEMPLOYED FREED AFTER WE ENDED THE ISRAELI WISCONSIN PLAN, THOSE WHOSE EVICTIONS FROM PUBLIC HOUSING WERE CANCELLED, THE RESIDENTS OF BIR EL ‘ID WHOM WE RETURNED TO THEIR HOMES AFTER 10 YEARS, THE SHEPHERDS WHO AFTER 10 YEARS AGAIN GRAZE THEIR FLOCKS IN THE VALLEY T’WAMIN AND THE LANDS RETURNED TO PALESTINIAN LANDOWNERS. MAY THESE GLIMPSES OF WHAT COULD BE STRENGTHEN OUR RESOLVE:
NEXT YEAR IN A JERUSALEM REDEEMED THROUGH JUSTICE AND THOSE RETURNING TO HER THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS
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 so that I do not hear? 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 God 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.