Yearly, when my household sits down on the Passover seder desk, we speak concerning 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 realize the emotions of a stranger.” Hammered residence throughout my childhood was the message of compassion: As a result of our ancestors had been free of bondage in Egypt, we must always assist those that undergo right now.
Over 4 cups of wine, we at all times mirror on who, at the moment, languishes in a metaphorical Egypt: Afghans one 12 months, Syrian refugees the following, then Uyghurs. This vacation, we’ll possible speak about Ukrainian households that went from dwelling their lives to working for his or her lives.
However 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 concerning the Torah portion of the week. He instructed 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 road in his conventional Haggadah on which he targeted, he instructed me, is “In each era our enemies stand up in opposition to us to destroy us, however God at all times delivers us out of their palms”—a reminder that anti-Semitism is inevitable and solely God saves the day.
To be clear, the Haggadah is thought to be a fluid doc, in contrast to 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 mounted. The principle obligation of the ritual is to inform the Exodus story to your youngsters.
However this 12 months, my normal orientation towards “the stranger,” or, in up to date parlance, “the opposite,” feels oversimplified, inadequate, naive to the concept—nevertheless arduous to just accept—that the hated “different” is usually us. I’m alert to the spike in anti-Semitic ugliness all through the world. In response to the Anti-Defamation League, 2019 noticed extra anti-Semitic incidents than another 12 months for the reason that group started monitoring such incidents 4 a long time 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 Metropolis. Hateful tweets about Jews elevated by 31 p.c in 2021, in line with an Israeli-government report.
People appear inured to discovering swastikas in dorm rooms, seeing Hasidic Jews overwhelmed on sidewalks, and listening to Israel’s existence be vilified. Crass Holocaust analogies are deployed from each side of the political aisle.
What hit closest to residence 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 “affect” to free a jailed terrorist whereas he held 4 hostages for 11 hours in a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue.
One among 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: Will 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 identical time synagogues in every single place rushed to extend their safety.
I don’t subscribe to the worry, heard in some Jewish circles, that it’s 1938 once more. However 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 method to blame the Jewish president of Ukraine for engineering a warfare to get white Europeans killed.
The bottom 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. Possibly 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 at all times most valued—to care and to behave—be utilized mainly to my household, in order that we neglect 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 commonplace with out equivocation. However I’m wrestling now with Passover’s different clarion name: to do not forget that we had enemies as soon as, and that now we have them nonetheless.
On the finish 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 fashionable, one medieval. The primary is that we open the door to represent that people have a job to play in redemption. The opposite 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 aspect.