Tuesday, April 14

Passover and 'Khametz'

It's Passover, or Pesach, here in Israel; Jews around the world celebrate the time when God led the biblical people of Israel out of Egypt and into freedom. I've received emails from Israeli friends wishing me a happy Easter and inviting me to share with them in their holiday of freedom, when they remember the mighty acts God did for them as a people thousands of years ago.

And yet today I look around and I feel that I am in Egypt. The Jews were kept apart and treated as slaves in Egypt. Today, Israel has a systematic policy of separation between Jews and Arabs. There is a separation fence/barrier/wall that physically divides the people. Driving through Jerusalem, one can often see soldiers or police stopping anyone that looks Palestinian and asking to see their ID as they're walking on the road; the same doesn't happen to our Jewish friends and neighbors. The Palestinians aren't slaves to the Israelis, but the Israeli military has the final word on what goes in or out of the Palestinian Territories. Not slaves, but the Palestinian economy certainly lives or dies at the whims of Israel.

In light of this, and as the Passover holiday is celebrated, I invite you to read some Passover thoughts from Rabbi Arik Ascherman. Arik is head of Rabbis for Human Rights, an MCC partner here in Jerusalem. A link to his article is below, and following that are excerpts from a supplement. The hagaddah is the liturgy of the Passover service, and here Arik has included some common questions with some uncommon answers; he offers a chance to remember the poor and oppressed that are with us today as we remember the acts of God that brought freedom to the biblical Israelites. May we remember that freedom from oppression is something that God desires for all peoples.

Ridding ourselves of the Khametz of Arrogance, by Rabbi Arik Ascherman.

Excerpts from the Passover Hagaddah are below.



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, particularly because we remain deeply aware of those who continue to threaten us and those who deny our right to a homeland, it is easy 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. Civilians in Gaza, Sderot, and the Western Negev. "Otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies," (Exodus 1:10) Pharaoh invoked "security" to justify his oppression of the Israelites. Today, Gazans and Israelis all live in fear and suffering as each side justifies its actions against civilians in the name of self-defense. A cease fire this year ended with the plagues of fear, death and destruction after Israel failed to honor her commitments to allow the free passage of basic goods, and Hamas renewed rocket fire on Israelis. Seven year old Or'el Iliezrov hung between life and death for weeks after a Grad rocket slammed into the family car. Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish mourns the death of three daughters from Israeli tank fire. Hatred grows as it feasts on the blood of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians, but remains un-satiated.

This night we remove ten drops of wine from our cup of joy, remembering the innocent Egyptians who suffered and died from the ten plagues. We vow to defend ourselves without punishing the innocent.

C. Um Kamel El-Kurd. Newly widowed after police evicted her and her sick husband at 4:00 am from their home in E. Jerusalem's Sheikh Neighborhood as part of a thirty five year campaign to evict 28 refugee families, Um-Kamel has been residing since then in a tent on a dirt lot not far from her home of 50 years. Even the tent is torn down by the police from time to time. Every night is a night of watching for the Ghawi and Hannun families. Evicted at midnight in 2002, they managed to return. Served with new eviction orders, they spend sleepless nights fearing a knock at the door.

Our ancestor was a wandering Aramean. This night we remember that all have the right to a home.

D. Silwan Tonight, 88 families in El-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, E. Jerusalem live in fear of having their homes demolished to make way for an archaeological park. Above in the Wadi-Hilweh neighborhood, archaeological excavations have caused roads to collapse, cracks in the homes and buckling floors. In Issawiyah, the Dari family faces a third demolition.

Celebrating the seder in the security of our homes, we commit ourselves to work in the coming year so that our National Home rests on a foundation of justice.

Hurshiya Family. After settlers used their guns to prevent the Hurshiya family from farming or grazing their land, the settlers claimed it was theirs because they had been farming it. While RHR helped them to win most of their land back, a settler vineyard still remains, they are often denied the army protection needed to safely enter their land and are now being sued by settlers because the government returned their land to them.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh taught that the sin of the Egyptians was thinking that their might gave them the right to oppress the stranger. This night may we remember that, instead of whips or guns, our outstreached hands must hold scales of justice.


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