We’re approaching pesach – one of the holiest chaggim in the Jewish calendar. We celebrate the emancipation of the Jews from Egyptian rule and think deeply into what it means to be oppressed. Whilst I’m all for delving into my Jewish history and learning about our tragic past of being exiled and ostracised, I also feel it’s just as important to relate to our modern society where oppression is still very much present.
I’ve just come back from 7 months in Israel with my movement on shnat and have learnt from start to finish about Jewish oppression. This brought to life for me how my own people have suffered but also inspired me to look into other types of oppression that unfortunately are not history, but are happening today before our eyes.
We can take groups such as women, who are oppressed in terms of sexual freedom, the fact they make less money than their male counterparts, are underrepresented in government and even face a tax on necessaryitems such as tampons and period products. (The list could go on).
I could name and rant about 10 other groups who are oppressed in society, but in relation to the story of Pesach I’m going to talk about refugees. The definition of a refugee is someone who has ‘been forced to leave their home because of war, persecution or natural disaster’. As Jewish people we can inarguably relate to this definition – we fled the Egyptians, the pogroms and of course were driven out of our homes during the holocaust.
The Syrian crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times – more than 12 million people have either been killed or forced to leave their homes. Many have risked their lives fleeing to Europe in the hope of refuge but the reality is that millions of Syrians need our help. According to the UN, 2.53 billion pounds was required to meet the pressing needs of Syrians in 2019 but only a third has been received. Families and children are ending up in refugee camps often with no shelter, food or clean water – something which admittedly as a privileged, western girl I find hard to imagine but that doesn’t stop me from feeling so angry towards the situation. 9 years on from the start of this crisis and not much has changed.
At the end of our seder we state ‘next year in Jerusalem’. Thousands of years ago when we were fighting our refugee status this was just a dream, but now we are fortunate enough to call this a reality. We have a home to flee to if anti-semitism in the diaspora reaches a boiling point, however, these refugees do not have this safety net. I am in no way belittling the Jewish suffering and we of course continue to fight anti-semitism every day, but right now in 2020, these refugees face the kind of oppression we came out the other side from.
Something Habonim Dror has always taught its channichim is the principle of shivyon erech ha’adam – the intrinsic value of human life. No person is any better than the other. Whether you believe that Moses really did split the sea and God struck the Egyptians with 10 plagues, or you don’t, the truth is we are not so different from these refugees. Take Pesach to enjoy being with family and connecting to your Jewish history, but also use it to reflect on the current state of the world and the groups who are suffering not so differently from how we once were.
Millie Bickler, Bogeret