Every 12 months, when my household sits down on the Passover seder desk, we discuss in regards to the stranger.
The model of the Haggadah that we use, with its readings and blessings, features a passage from Exodus: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger.” Hammered dwelling throughout my childhood was the message of compassion: Because our ancestors had been free of bondage in Egypt, we should always assist those that endure at this time.
Over 4 cups of wine, we all the time mirror on who, at present, languishes in a metaphorical Egypt: Afghans one 12 months, Syrian refugees the following, then Uyghurs. This vacation, we’ll probably speak about Ukrainian households that went from residing their lives to operating for his or her lives.
But as Passover approaches, I’m replaying a dialog I had with Dov Linzer, an Orthodox rabbi with whom I used to co-host a podcast in regards to the Torah portion of the week. He advised me that the important thing line about empathizing with the stranger isn’t talked about in his Haggadah in any respect. He was startled that the chief mandate I had absorbed is to consider who’s in hassle now, as a result of Jews as soon as had been in hassle ourselves.
That wasn’t the ethos of his boyhood seder. The line in his conventional Haggadah on which he centered, he advised me, is “In every generation our enemies rise up against us to destroy us, but God always delivers us out of their hands”—a reminder that anti-Semitism is inevitable and solely God saves the day.
To be clear, the Haggadah is understood to be a fluid doc, not like the Hebrew Bible. There have been numerous iterations of the textual content, although the 15 steps of the seder, which interprets to “order,” have remained pretty fastened. The primary obligation of the ritual is to inform the Exodus story to your youngsters.
But this 12 months, my traditional orientation towards “the stranger,” or, in modern parlance, “the other,” feels oversimplified, inadequate, naive to the thought—nonetheless onerous to just accept—that the hated “other” is usually us. I’m alert to the spike in anti-Semitic ugliness all through the world. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2019 noticed extra anti-Semitic incidents than every other 12 months for the reason that group started monitoring such incidents 4 many years in the past. This 12 months and final, anti-Semitic hate crimes had been essentially the most generally reported sort of bias crimes in New York City. Hateful tweets about Jews elevated by 31 p.c in 2021, in accordance with an Israeli-government report.
Americans appear inured to discovering swastikas in dorm rooms, seeing Hasidic Jews crushed on sidewalks, and listening to Israel’s existence be vilified. Crass Holocaust analogies are deployed from either side of the political aisle.
What hit closest to dwelling for me, although, was the harrowing Sabbath in January when my rabbi, Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York, fielded deranged calls from a gunman, Malik Faisal Akram. He demanded that she use her “influence” to free a jailed terrorist whereas he held 4 hostages for 11 hours in a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue.
One of Akram’s hostages, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, exemplified not solely the calm and braveness of a real chief however the stress between totally different themes of the Haggadah: Do we welcome the stranger or deal with him with suspicion? When Akram knocked on the locked synagogue’s door, Cytron-Walker provided him not mistrust however a cup of tea. Cytron-Walker was later deservedly lauded for that kindness, although on the similar time synagogues in all places rushed to extend their safety.
I don’t subscribe to the worry, heard in some Jewish circles, that it’s 1938 over again. But I’ve additionally by no means in my lifetime watched Jews painted so starkly as grasp manipulators, oppressors, colonizers, even Nazis, excluded from progressive efforts for social justice. I by no means imagined that I’d see indicators blaring Zionism is terrorism, or flyers left on doorsteps blaming the pandemic on a Jewish plot. I discover it mind-boggling that white supremacists have even discovered a solution to blame the Jewish president of Ukraine for engineering a warfare to get white Europeans killed.
The floor has shifted, and Passover should too.
I’m struggling this 12 months to reconcile the teachings I’ve taken from the vacation: to assist the world, but additionally to recollect how usually the world has turned on us. Maybe the seder must be a name not just for empathy but additionally for vigilance. And but if I reorient my prayers, will the directive I’ve all the time most valued—to care and to behave—be utilized mainly to my household, in order that we overlook the stranger?
I stay dedicated to my Haggadah’s cost—not simply to recount our personal oppression, however to resolve to not oppress others. I’ll maintain my fellow Jews to that customary with out equivocation. But I’m wrestling now with Passover’s different clarion name: to do not forget that we had enemies as soon as, and that we now have them nonetheless.
At the top of the seder, we open the door for the prophet Elijah—the harbinger of the Messiah—craving for a greater world.
Two clashing explanations for the Elijah ritual reverberate this 12 months—one trendy, one medieval. The first is that we open the door to represent that people have a job to play in redemption. The different is that, in a time of hatred, Jews should stay on guard, opening the door to verify the enemy shouldn’t be ready on the opposite facet.