Following Nachshon’s Example: Remembering Bondage, Celebrating Liberty, and Taking Action for Passover

by Isaac Flegel-Mishlove, Refugee Policy Intern, HIAS

With over 15 million refugees worldwide (51 million if we include displaced persons) and international crises escalating, Passover this year will be a time to celebrate freedom, yes, but also a time for serious reflection, critical discussion, and demonstrations of solidarity. This year, as with every Passover, we must remember our history and recommit to protect those who flee persecution today.

As we sit around the Seder table progressing from ritual to ritual, we are meant to relive our experience as a refugee people fleeing Egypt for safer lands. Despite plague after plague, Pharaoh in Egypt hardened his heart against the Hebrews, reminding us of the rounds of hardship that refugees experience today: loss of loved ones, loss of work, and loss of home. Pharaoh’s false promises remind us of the impossibly frustrating resettlement process, the vortex of document expirations, and bureaucratic procrastination.

“Love the stranger and redeem the captive:” two mantras we know are important Jewish values. But they’re so much more than that. They are in our bones and in our history. This is a history that we must continue to transmit, generation to generation, Dor l’Dor. When better a time to do this than at a Passover Seder?

With your children, your friends, your parents, and the new member of your Synagogue that you host this year for Seder, encourage activism with the midrash of Nachshon. In this story, perhaps the most harrowing chapter of the Israelites’ Exodus, the refugees led by Moses arrived at the edge of the Red Sea closely chased by their Egyptian oppressors. Terrified by the obstacle ahead of them, many begged Moses to lead them back to slavery rather than risk their lives crossing the sea.  As the tribes prayed for a miracle, one brave soul, Nachshon, decided to risk it all to escape persecution, quite literally to “take the plunge.”

He entered the water, wading deeper and deeper, water covering his waist, then his shoulders, and finally his mouth; water swirled over his head and all hope seemed lost, when G-d said to Moses: “Turn around and look at what Nachshon has done! While you pray, he has taken action!” It was only then that Moses held up his staff and G-d parted the sea.

Nachshon’s actions are meaningful to us in two ways. First, they represent the courage and strength of refugees around the world who today are traversing the scariest and most desperate circumstances to escape persecution. Second, Nachshon’s example compels us to take action. After we’ve sung, prayed, eaten our fill, and found the Afikoman, we must get involved and look for actionable ways to help the 15 million refugees around the world today.

One great way to kick-start this activism is by participating in the We Were Strangers, Too national conference call tomorrow (Friday, March 27th) from 12-1pm EST. We’ll be discussing current immigration policy in the US including asylum for children and families and current legislation being considered in the House and Senate and exploring local organizing efforts around the country to incorporate Immigration Activism into Jewish communal organizing. Click here to RSVP to participate, and feel free to spread the word!

Finally, stay tuned for a We Were Strangers, Too blog post next week with materials about immigration and refugee social justice that you can use to supplement your Passover Seder.

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