Since 2003, an estimated 10,000 non-Jewish immigrants from various African countries have crossed into Israel. Some 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan have been granted temporary resident status to be renewed every year, though not official refugee status. Another 2,000 refugees from the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been granted temporary resident status on humanitarian grounds.
In 2007, Israel deported 48 refugees back to Egypt. In August 2008 the Israel Defense Forces deported at least another 91 African asylum seekers at the border. The current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called for a patrolled fence to be built on Israel’s border with Egypt to keep out illegal immigrants.
Circles of Empathy:
- As an American, do you ever think about the war and unrest in Africa? How much do you care about injustice taking place far from home, to people you do not know or share very much with?
- Every year on Pesach we say at the Seder “each day and age, one and all must see himself, as though having escaped Egypt.” Why do you think this passage is part of the seder?
- How do you think Alma Zohar might answer this question?
- Do you agree with Zohar’s interpretation?
- Do you think this song would have a place at your seder night? Might you choose to sing it at your seder?
- Do you think we should be helping African refugees because it is our responsibility as human beings, or because we remember that as Jews, we too were once refugees?
- Does tapping into our Jewish history of slavery and exile make our desire to help those in need stronger? Should it?
- Should the obligation of the State of Israel to refugees be any different from that of the United States?
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Spark: Taking the Jewish people from Egypt purposefully put the Jewish people into situations that would be incredibly challenging. This is to teach us that any worthwhile, meaningful endeavor, like taking the Jews from Egypt or creating a State of Israel, will by nature come with significant challenge. We are called to face these challenges with courage and integrity.
Exodus: 13-17 – When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.
יז וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא
Exodus 14:8 – The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites.
ח וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה, אֶת-לֵב פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּרְדֹּף, אַחֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל;
Exodus 15:24 – Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.
כב וַיַּסַּע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּם-סוּף, וַיֵּצְאוּ אֶל-מִדְבַּר-שׁוּר; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת-יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא-מָצְאוּ מָיִם.
Exodus 17:8 – The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.
ח וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם.
In gematria, Amalek is the numerical equivalent to safek, doubt.
Why does God over and over put the Jewish people into these difficult situations? Why does God lead the Jewish people on a crooked path out of Egypt? Bring Pharoah back? Not provide adequate provisions? Allow for Amalek, the embodiment of doubt, to attack? There is a lesson here: God wanted the Jewish people to know and experience profound challenges as they embarked on their spiritual and historic mission. That is true today in the building of the State of Israel. Each of these encounters represents a different kind of challenge we have experienced in building the State of Israel.
The crooked path might represent competing ideas and approaches, many never reconciled, about what Israel should be.
- Pharoah represents external enemies and military attacks.
- Lack of food and water represents scarce resources.
- Amalek represents doubt.
These challenges, however, are not signs of failure. Rather, they may be important steps for us to take as a people to grow morally, economically, militarily, Jewishly, etc.
Choose a challenge/setback that Israel has faced over the last 60 years, whether military, political, economic, or spiritual. See if you can find a way that facing that challenge has created a stronger Israel moving forward.