Musings on a pre-Passover Torah study with Rabbi Miriam…

One week ago, on Sunday, April 3rd, 13 people weaved their way through a Greek parade on the Danforth to negotiate an obstructed pathway to the Auditorium at “Beth-minster” for a Torah study session with Rabbi Miriam on the subject  of “Peach, Refugees & The Jewish Experience of Strangeness“.

Every year at the Passover seder we say that we, personally, went free from Egypt, from the oppression of slavery to freedom and experience, in that moment as we project ourselves into the Pesach narrative, the responsibility that freedom entails.  Over the course of our history, Jews have experienced expulsions and displacement and known this feeling again and again… of being the stranger and being on the outside: looking in.

During the hour and a half group discussion (where we also intermittently broke into pairs to examine topics 1:1), we tried to grasp how we can can learn from our history as refugees and apply these teachings to the plight of Syrian refugees and other groups fleeing persecution. The result was a thought-provoking and very personal way to prepare each of us for a deeper encounter with Pesach and its practices of liberation.

Long-time DJC-er Eve-Lynn Stein participated in the session and shares her thoughts below:

Rabbi Miriam warmly welcomed the group and passed around some study notes with Torah excerpts, the most memorable from Exodus 23: 9: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” 

It gave all of us who attended such a great opportunity to meet and have some wonderful discussions.  Our time together led me to thinking about different ways of incorporating some of the ideas — e.g. trying to make the Passover Seder more relevant to us in the here and now — into our large extended family’s Seder in Bath, Ontario…

Since then I have spoken to my mother about her own Seder and the possibility of  us trying to incorporate this statement from the Torah to lead us into a discussion about what it means to feel “different” or on the outside of a community and then what do we (and of course others) need in order to feel accepted and valued by that community?

It is an important discussion for all of us as we think about welcoming the many individuals and families from Syria and other countries, who have faced years of oppression.  It is our chance to enjoy our usual noisy family’s Seder with the retelling the traditional story of our ancestors fleeing oppression — with the four questions, all the plagues and of course the many rounds of “Dayenu” — but also making it relevant to all of us today.  I look forward to discussing a new fifth question with the many family and friends at our table — How can we ensure that we don’t oppress the “stranger” for we know the feelings of the stranger, having at some point faced those experiences ourselves?

Eve-Lynn co-leads the volunteer sub-committee for the Syrian Refugee Family Sponsorship project on our Social Justice Committee.

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