We must help liberate those imperiled by tyranny by student rabbi David N. Goodman

Click here read the article on the Jewish Community Voice Website.

On Passover Eve 1906, the SS Merion docked in Philadelphia, 13 days after steaming away from Liv-erpool, England. The U.S. immigra-tion manifest lists some 2,000 names, nearly all of them described as Russ-ian nationals of the “Hebrew race.” Among the newcomers is one “Lewie Gutman,” 19, from Bogopol, Ukraine—my grandfather Louis.
He and his fellow passengers were part of the massive wave of Jewish immigration from the Russian Empire—an impoverished multi-ethnic land where Jews endured poverty and government-imposed restrictions on residency and jobs. Many saw Tsar Nicholas II as anoth-er Pharaoh and their trans-oceanic voyage as a quest for a new land of promise—if not the Promised Land of the Torah.
As the Jewish people celebrate Passover 116 years later, our joy is necessarily diminished by the images we witness daily of Ukrain-ian refugees—an estimated 11 mil-lion who have fled their country or their homes. They include many of the 200,000 Ukrainian citizens of Jewish heritage, the remnant of what once was the world center of Jewish life.
The Haggadah for our Passover seder tells us to remember the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. And the Holy One, our God, brought us out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” Without that intervention, “we, our children and their children would still be Pharaoh’s slaves.”
The Torah readings for Passover describe the Israelites as rushing to depart after the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn, which finally prompts Pharaoh to release them. “And the people took their dough before it could rise, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks on their shoulders.” (Exodus 12:34.) Their departure was hurried, yet joyful, as they set out for new lives in their Promised Land. So, too, the millions of Jews who came to America around the turn of the 20th century bringing hopes for freedom and prosperity.
But what of today’s refugees?Killing and destruction are driving their flight, not the quest for libera-tion.
This Passover, I invite us to keep the people of Ukraine in our hearts. Although the seders have passed, we symbolically dipped our fingers into our wine cups and removed 10 drops of wine for each plague that God brought down on the Egyp-tians to secure the Israelites’ free-dom. Let us deliberately diminish our own joy as we recall today’s suffering millions.
But our tradition commands us to go beyond symbolism—to act and not just talk. Our morning blessing praising the God who “frees the captives” reminds of the mitzvah of redeeming those who are imperiled. As free people with resources and with a voice in the seats of power, we must heed the call to act now: Through contribu-tions to HIAS and other groups aid-ing Ukrainian refugees and through outreach to our elected leaders. May the story of our people’s liber-ation jolt us into action for the lib-eration of others imperiled by tyranny today. s

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

High Holidays Survey