By Rabbi Joshua Ratner
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven
Passover is a time for food and family. But at its core, Passover also is a time when we reconnect with the experience of being a people in exile. We recall—in fact, the Haggadah requires us to recall—the Exodus narrative of being enslaved, marginalized, and subject to the whims of a ruler who viewed us with disdain and fear. But why? Why does the Haggadah require us to recite: “this year we are slaves, next year may we be free?” More broadly, why does the Torah remind us again and again of our need to be sensitive to, care for, and even love the strangers residing in our midst solely because we were once slaves in Egypt?
The command to remember demands more than the passive recollection of historical events. During Passover, we not only retell the story of the exodus from Egypt, but also project ourselves into the story personally to experience the move from slavery to liberation. Rabbis, such as the Ritba (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Ishbili, 125-1330) stress that “every single individual must see and look at himself as though he had been a slave in Egypt and as though he went forth to freedom.” This individualized association inculcates in each of us a sense of empathy and pathos for those who, today, remain enslaved, marginalized, and exiled. We honor our past and appreciate today’s freedom by acting in our present.
Today, the world faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Millions of refugees, especially those who are victims of the atrocious civil war in Syria, are left vulnerable and destitute, hoping for an opportunity simply to live their lives outside the constant specter of death and destruction. I am proud that the Jewish community of Greater New Haven, both through JCARR (Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement) and other local refugee resettlement efforts, has heeded this call. The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven stands ready to continue supporting this critical work with our community partners.
May the Passover story continue to inspire us to translate our recollection of slavery and suffering into acts of love and support for refugees here in Connecticut. Hag Sameah!