Refugee Shabbat: Exodus Stories

Posted on April 4, 2023 by Ronnie Weyl

Next week, Jews around the world will gather together to celebrate the Festival of Passover. We will eat matzah and charoset, drink four cups of wine, and tell the story of our ancestors, who fled slavery and oppression in search of freedom and a new home.

But it’s not just the Israelites’ story. We are reminded that, “In every generation, all of us are obliged to regard ourselves as if we ourselves went forth from the Land of Egypt (Exodus 13:8)

“We must feel the lash and feel the hope that defeats its pain. We must feel the water at our feet, and the fresh breeze of freedom on our face.” (The Women’s Seder Sourcebook, ed. Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld)

The Israelites’ Exodus story is our story.

It is also the Exodus story of our grandparents who fled pogroms in Russia… of our grandparents and parents who fled Nazi Germany…and the story of Jews today fleeing oppression wherever it arises.

I believe it is this collective memory as a “refugee people” that softens our hearts to feel the pain, and the hope, of today’s refugees and immigrants.

On Friday night, Temple Beth-El will join hundreds of synagogues around the country who have held Refugee Shabbat services to remind us to care that a record number of children and adults – – -more than 100 million – – have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, war, and persecution.

For our TBE family, the refugee crisis has become more than data points and news articles.  It’s about human beings we have welcomed into our community and our hearts.

It’s their sigh of relief to be safe and warm.  It’s the sound of children’s laughter. It’s the smile of gratitude when volunteers deliver food or drive one of them to work.  It’s a cup of tea or Turkish coffee and a shared meal.

Many of us have gotten to know Rahim, Fahim, and Ibrahim over the past 16 months. We have heard their harrowing story of escape from the terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of their journey that brought them to our community, alone and empty-handed.  What a joy it has been to watch them make great strides as they continue to build new lives for themselves. They are and always will be part of our TBE family.

And now we welcome to Hillsborough an extended family of seven adults and five children, who fled horrific conditions in war-torn Syria last month, after experiencing the devasting earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria a few weeks earlier.

We are also blessed to welcome into our lives Farida, Adbulkhalek, and their daughter. Two years and four months ago, they fled Syria to escape the oppression of police, military, and paramilitary forces and the barrage of rockets and barrel bombs. Now reunited with their extended family, they live just miles away from Hillsborough and can once again be part of their extended family’s lives.

For all of them, their Exodus story is one of extraordinary courage and determination, faith, and hope for new beginnings.

We all come to this “moment of beginnings,” writes Rabbi Yael Levy, “with the arrival of spring and the celebration of Passover, also known as Chag Ha-Aviv – -the Springtime Festival.  It is a time when we leave the narrow places and journey forth into the expansiveness of possibility…when the tiny green shoots break through the hard ground – – delicate and so strong – – reaching toward the light, being nourished by the light and water.”

May we as a TBE family, along with our community partners, be a source of water and light to help nourish the lives of Rahim, Fahim, and Ibrahim, and Farida,  Adbulkhalek, their daughter, and our newest neighbors.

TBE’ refugee resettlement committee invites you to join us for our Refugee Shabbat to hear a few of them share their Exodus stories during services. After our Oneg and Iftar, when our new neighbors break the fast in celebration of Ramadan, we will all have a chance to hear more.

Shabbat Shalom!  And a Zissen Pesach.

Ronnie Weyl, Chair, TBE Refugee Resettlement Committee