Passover is only one week away. I still have shopping and preparing to do as I look forward to our seders. As the holiday approaches, I thought the following piece written by my colleague, Dr. Steven Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, provided context as we think about our seder experience.
Passover is a time for family, for tradition, and for festive celebration.
As we read the Haggadah, we reflect on our past travails and miraculous redemption as a Jewish people. But if we look only at the past we risk overlooking the incredible ways in which the cycle of Jewish history continues today. Only at our peril can we ignore the continuing Jewish story of persecution, redemption, and extraordinary achievement, or fail to recognize the role each and every one of us plays — individually and collectively — in the ongoing saga.
A poignant reminder of this was the clandestine final rescue and immigration to Israel, or aliyah, of 19 Yemenite Jews completed on March 20. Among them was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Raydah, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be more than 500 years old, and the son of Aharon Zindani, who was murdered in an anti-Semitic attack in 2012.
This wasn’t the first nor the last time, given the dangerous era we live in, when unified, collective action through a strong and effective federation system meant the difference between life and death for Jews in peril. In this case it was the Jewish Agency for Israel — an organization funded and governed by almost 300 Jewish community federations worldwide in partnership with the government of Israel — that took the lead, with help from Israeli intelligence and the U.S. State Department.
Our liturgy says of the Exodus, which we celebrate at Passover, that God rescued the Jewish people “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm …” When it comes to rescuing Jews from jihadist terror and Muslim sectarian war in Yemen, from discrimination in Ethiopia or from a gathering storm of anti-Jewish violence in Europe, we know it is our duty to lend our own strong hands and outstretched arms.
Thank God we have the strength, unity and Jewish independence needed to take our fate into our own hands to the extent that we can. The rescue of the Yemenite Jews is one case in point.
No single community, no single donor, not even the State of Israel, on its own could have rescued the Jews of Yemen. It took a global Jewish community to do it. A global community that, despite all our differences, still feels inexorably connected to one another and acts upon that unity in life-saving ways.
This Passover, as we sit down to seder with family and friends, let’s remember that the work of redemption is not complete, and that the work requires not only divine grace but also our own strong hands and outstretched arms. Let us be mindful, as the rescue of our Yemenite brothers and sisters shows, that our actions make a difference.
At the conclusion of the Passover seder we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” For these Yemenite Jews and so many others, they do not need to wait.
A few quick updates:
- Late last week, we held the 17th annual Intergroup Seder with 160 people representing all faiths and ethnic communities. It was a beautiful evening of learning, celebrating, sharing, and most of all, experiencing a seder. Kudos to Joanne Van Ness Menashe, Joyce Mendelsohn, Sherry Fishman, Rabbi Joshua Rose, Kim Schneiderman and everyone involved with the seder. Beyond the Jewish Federation, we are grateful for funding from the Emily Georges Gottfried Fund of the OJCF and the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation of the OJCF.
- I am delighted to share that our new Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland has made its first two interest-free loans! The program is designed to help people with “life’s ups and downs.” Our first loan was given to a graduate student to provide tuition funding for their last semester of school. She wrote, “I am thrilled to have the final funding needed to complete my Master’s degree, and your belief in my education means so much. I am so happy to be a part of this program and to know that by repaying my loan, I am helping make another loan possible.”
The second loan was approved for someone who needed assistance paying back taxes. We have other loan applications pending. We are excited to have this opportunity for our Jewish community and hope many will look into this option.
- On April 11, our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) sponsored an in-depth mayoral candidate forum featuring lead candidates State Treasurer Ted Wheeler and former Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey. Of particular interest to the audience was a question about the Portland Human Rights Commission’s (HRC) endorsement of a proposal to divest from four companies due solely to their operations in Israel. Both candidates noted that, in their view, the HRC lost credibility for taking this stand and both credited the Jewish Federation and its JCRC for calling their attention to the issue and for working with them to issue strong statements condemning the HRC action as inappropriate and “hurtful” to the Jewish community.
- Sadly, several incidents of anti-Semitism have happened at Portland State University in the past 6 months. Swastikas were carved into several doors in one of the student dorms. There is no excuse for any carving, writing, etc. of swastikas on our campuses, and Greater Portland Hillel and the JCRC are working with the PSU administration to prevent this from happening in the future.
- One final reminder, this Sunday is Good Deeds Day at the Schnitzer Family Campus. Please join over 300 people already signed up for volunteer activities and make sure you bring items to donate to support nine nonprofits for the Hand to Hand drive.
May you enjoy your Passover preparations (check out the Jewish Federation’s Passover page that includes Passover-related programming and information) and Shabbat shalom.