February 20, 2019

Bechol Dor Va’Dor: How You Can Make a Difference this Passover

In every generation one is obligated to view oneself as though one personally came out of Egypt.” –Haggadah

Bechol dor va dor chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatza mi’mitzraim.

I sing that song every year during the Passover Seder. It has always had an effect on me, almost making me tear up each time, year after year. The melody is beautiful, slow, and emotional, and the words are simple but direct. Since four years ago, however, my mind has raced while singing this song. Tears have fallen down my cheeks, my throat has tightened, and my breath has stopped.

“The Egyptians treated us badly and they made us suffer, and they put hard work upon us…’
‘I was born and raised in Eritrea, where I was fortunate to be well educated…I taught high school math…On January 10, 2012, I fled my homeland to escape persecution… Smugglers offered to take me to a refugee camp, but instead they transported me to someplace in the Sudanese desert and held me and others as slaves. We worked in our captors’ houses and fields all day, without a break. I tried to escape, but they caught me; as punishment, they isolated me and held me, blindfolded, in solitary confinement for a month…We suffered greatly. We saw our friends die…I didn’t think I would survive…On July 7, 2012, my captors took me, and others, to the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers spotted us but refused us entry. We turned back, and eventually we found a different route to cross into Israel. Security forces immediately picked us up and transferred us to the Saharonim prison.’—Testimony published anonymously, 1/28/14”
(Excerpt from “>Refugeee Seder Supplement)

I started working as a researcher on the lives of asylum seekers in Israel in September, 2010 and came back to Los Angeles in Deecember, 2011. Since the beginning of conducting the research I have felt sad, disturbed, angry, upset, humiliated, and embarrassed. How can I not feel this way knowing what I know about how Israel is treating asylum seekers and refugees? I grew up visiting Israel almost every year of my life, visiting my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I am a Jew and an Israeli citizen. And I am saying loud and clear that in in this case what Israel is doing is wrong and it is time for Jews in the Diaspora to step up and do something about it.

Israel is home to about 53,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. They do not have the right to work and many are being put into detention in the Negev desert at a facility called Holot. Holot is not truly an open facility as Israel claims it to be. Detainees have to report three times a day for head counts. They must sleep there at night behind locked gates. If they are away for more than 48 hours, they will be imprisoned at Saharonim prison for 3 months. And they are not allowed to work, let alone do much else than sit around and feel complete hopelessness.

This year I will celebrate Passover differently. I will be joining my friends in New York and bringing with me the Refugee Seder Supplement that Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel, the coalition I co-founded, created with other incredible and courageous organizations in the Jewish community.

You too can take part in our Seder by bringing it to your home and raising awareness about the plight of the African asylum seekers in Israel with your friends and family. You can ask each other another four questions:

“• Have any members of your family ever sought refuge?
• What do you know about their stories?
• Have you ever met a modern refugee?
• How does your family background shape your relationship to refugees?” (Excerpt from “>Refugeee Seder Supplement)

You can show the asylum seekers that you care by sending cards to detainees at Holot or to the families of the Eritrean Women’s Community Center in Tel Aviv.

And you can “>Click here to download the “>Click here to sign the petition.