04/23/2024, 14.10
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'Our Pesah with a place at the table for the innocent victims of Gaza'

by Arik Ascherman *

The hostages in the hands of Hamas, but also the starving civilians in the Strip and the victims of settler violence, in the prayer published in Israel by Rabbi Arik Ascherman - of the 'Torah of Justice' movement - on the evening when Jews celebrate through the rite of the seder the liberation from Egypt. "It is all too easy to become oppressed and oppressor at the same time. Stay with us, so that our fears do not become our masters".

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - In these hours the Jewish world is experiencing a Pesah holiday heavily marked by the tragedy of 7 October and the ongoing war in Gaza. Among its most significant faces last night in Tel Aviv was the seder - the ritual dinner at which Jews commemorate the liberation from Egypt - that the families of the hostages still in the hands of Hamas held together, renewing their demand for an agreement that will lead to the release of their loved ones. In the same hours ,on his Facebook profile, rav Arik Ascherman, a rabbi originally from the United States who lives in Israel and has been active for many years in movements for the respect of Palestinians' human rights, published this reflection based on some key phrases pronounced by Jews at Pesah, a text that we publish in our translation. It is a significant voice of that part of Israel that sees justice - even towards those on the other side of the barricade - as the only way to really get out of the death spiral that has been enveloping Gaza and Israel for more than six months now.

Eloheinu v'Elohei Kadmoneinu (Avoteinu, Avoteinu vEmoteinu), our God and God of our ancestors, we are gathered around this seder table as b'nei khorin, free people commanded to remember our dark nights of oppression. Yet we also read, “This year we are still slaves. Next year may we be free.” For many this year we feel we are still slaves. Freedom has a bitter taste, if we feel it at all. We are taught that the people of Israel are like a pile of walnuts. Move one and the entire pile is affected. Take one of us hostage, and none of us are fully free. This year many of us particularly resonate with “In every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us,” and we pray that the “Holy One of Blessing will deliver us from their hands.” This seder it is particularly difficult to free ourselves from our feelings of oppression.

Experiencing danger, it is all to easy to become both oppressed and oppressors at the same time. Your Torah warns us never to become oppressors ourselves, reminding us, "For you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Yet, when we're honest with ourselves, we know that also in past years we have been Pharaoh to other peoples, and to the disadvantaged among our own people. Our awareness of those who wish to destroy us often causes us to harden our hearts, perceive hatred even where it does not exist and justify the oppression of others.

We therefore turn to You, as in days of old. Stand with us, so that our fears not rise up to be our taskmasters. Help us to banish Pharaoh from our hearts, and let the rest of humanity in.

With Pharaoh at bay, we are better able to perceive the desecration of Your Image found in every human being. As with the plagues of old, our joy is diminished when we hear of those whose lives remain embittered. "Hashata Avdei," "This year we remain slaves because of their oppression." We remove additional drops of wine from our cup of celebration and renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby completing ours. We make room in our hearts and at our table for:

Israelis Who Whose Loved Ones Were Murdered, Families of Fallen Soldiers, and the Hostages.

So much pain, loss and worry. So many homes in which the empty seats rip the hearts of those who are present. The families of the hostages try to maintain hope that next year their loved ones will be free. The empty space in the hearts and homes of bereaved families will be forever.

The hostages will have no seder and no table. The hostages and their families have a place in our hearts, and around our tables.

Gazan non-combatants bombed, homeless and suffering extreme hunger and malnutrition.

As much as some try to deny it, there can be no denial. Death stalks non-combatants in Gaza. Thousands have died when their homes became death traps. Estimates are that thousands more are likely to die from disease, hunger and hunger related complications. The war crimes of Hamas fighters embedding themselves in a civilian population do not absolve of responsibility. As Samekh Yitzhar asked in 1988, we too must ask, are there things we do not do, even if everybody else does and even if we do so in the name of defense, because we are Jews?

This year when we recite “Kol Dekhfin, Let all who are hungry come and eat,” what do we commit to in order to make those words more than an empty phrase? As we recite these words, may our “all” truly be “all.”

THE COHEN FAMILY (Not real name)

The Cohens have lived for 34 years in an Amidar (public housing) apartment Today the state decided to do evacuation-renovation in the old buildings in Kiryat Menachem. Normally that means tenants or apartment owners are given temporary housing and then returned to an even large apartment after the renovations.

But the Cohens have been deemed to be squatters, after paying 34 years rent to Amidar and wanting to buy the apartment, they are not entitled to buy it. The state intends to kick them out after they evacuate and rebuild. They will not be returned to their apartment, and they have no rights. We are now in fierce battles against the Housing Ministry to enable them to purchase the apartment. The situation will in all likely continue unless a Member of Knesset wakes up and changes the new Kafkaesque laws

Pharaoh created a system in which we were doomed to fail and be punished. There was no way that we could meet our quota of bricks. Tonight we declare that we will fight for laws that belp people succeed, not fail.

Ibrahim used to make a living from his olive trees.

But his bad luck is that his grove is next to the Khavat Gilad outpost. He can't get to the grove without army protection, and when he does get there he finds every year that most of his olives have been stolen. Less than half of his 450 trees remain.This year he and many others never reached his olives at all, There were no permits, to coordination, and despite a letter from the Civil Administration, soldiers and settlers drafted into reserve duty actively prevented farmers from reaching their trees. Entire settler families came to steal the olives. Now farmers are being prevented from plowing or pruning.

Some plagues are Divine in origin. ] However, injustice, violence and oppression are human plagues requiring human solutions. Tonight we reaffirm the right of Ibrahim to support himself from his lands in dignity and without fear

Abu-Bashar is the leader of the Wadi a Seeq shepherding community violently expelled from their homes on October 12th.

They were told at gunpoint that they had an hour to leave, or else. Settlers have stolen or destroyed or stolen almost everything they left behind, including homes, vehicles and equipment. Wadi a Seeq is one of 18 that have fled because of state backed settler violence since October 7th, or were physically expelled. Three more communities fled between May and August. Landowners in nearby communities allowed the Wadi a Seeq families to temporarily scrounge building materials and build on their lands, but pasture is scarce and they have been told that they must soon leave. They are terrified to return, despite our legal efforts and willingness to again be with them 24/7. The High Court has called on Israeli security forces to do their job to protect them, but has until now refused our request to issue a restraining order keeping the settlers out of the land they need for their livelihood. They gaze from afar at the settler flocks grazing in their pastureland and between among the wreckage of their homes, and coming ever closer to where they now live.

Tonight, remembering how the Egyptians didn't give us straw for bricks, we identify with Abu-Bashar and al those seeking straw for their flocks, a secure roof over their heads, and schools and a future for their children. We pledge to win these basic human rights. They have no permanent home or table, but they have a place at ours.

Even ma'asu habonim – The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." As we joyfully recite these words of Hallel in our seder, we pledge to build a homeland with a place for all those who are today rejected, ignored or oppressed. God's Image will be our cornerstone. All will have a place at our table.

Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh's command.


* Israeli rabbi, founder and director of the Torat Tzedech (Torah of Justice) movement


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