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Passover, COVID-19, and the Plight of Refugees

04/18/2020 12:20:01 PM

Apr18

ABIGAIL LEIBOWITZ

(Special to Informed Comment) – Yesterday was the last day of a peculiar Passover, celebrated under the Coronavirus pandemic. It reminded me of a famous story. Two British salesmen went down to Africa in the 1900’s to find if there was any opportunity for selling shoes. They wrote telegrams back to Manchester. One of them wrote, “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote, “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.”

At first glance, the Passover story seems like the first salesman’s “hopeless situation”- where God had to inflict plagues on the Egyptians in order to free the Israelite slaves from their oppression, and civil discourse failed. However, Passover lends a glorious opportunity for a different approach- that of social justice and human rights. On the first two nights, Jews worldwide sat at their Seder tables, pointed to the matza, and chanted from the Haggadah, the text recited at the Seder, “this is the bread of poverty and persecution . . . whoever is hungry, come and eat, whoever is needy, come and join us.” We invite the poor and needy — regardless of their religion or ethnicity — into our homes to engage and celebrate with us.

Of course, this year was very different. We could not physically invite anyone into our homes because of COVID-19. Thus, I was compelled to find additional meaning to the Passover rituals.

Unable to invite the elderly or lonely neighbor to our table as we usually do, I challenged myself to think of all those separated from their families with no family feast or a place to call home. I saw in my mind the displaced of the world – the 70 million refugees surviving in tents and camps in desolate places under harsh conditions.

I considered the hundreds of separated children and families in ICE custody. They fled violence and brutality, only to be put in conditions that make them even more vulnerable to the global pandemic threatening us all.

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