Chag Sameach! Greetings to all of my friends and family who celebrate Passover.
I am remembering two Seders I have attended in Albuquerque, New Mexico — both in homes filled with many warm people who were strangers to me at the beginning of the Seder, but certainly not at the end.
The first Passover Seder was an invitation by my law partner to join her and her friends at someone’s home (I wish I could remember the name of the host). They patiently taught me the rituals, and the significance of the food on the table.
The Passover seder celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom from the Pharaoh and the larger issue of the immorality of slavery. As Jews, we have a long history filled with suffering, oppression and slavery, which has informed our choices as a community to work with other groups to help their own oppression. Jews have played roles in the civil rights movement, women’s movement, gay rights movement and feel a deep connection to suffering of others.
My second Seder was also in Albuquerque, a few years later, at my friend Melinda’s house. Again, there were many strangers sitting at several makeshift tables, we read another version of the Haggadah, we shared the matzohs, horseradish and the rest of the Seder meal together while making new friends.
One young man at my table was from Jabalya Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip! Sami was a Palestinian boy only 16 years old, an exchange student attending Manzano High School. Before he arrived in Albuquerque, the only Jews Sami had ever met were the soldiers carrying weapons in Gaza. My friend Iris writes:
Now he had Jewish friends in school and several Jewish mothers ready to take him home. For Passover, we invited him to his first seder. The ritual required one to ask questions. That night was different from all other nights because Sami translated the four seder questions into Arabic and Croatian, the language of his Yugoslav mother. Another person asked them in Spanish, another in French, and of course they were asked in Hebrew and English. An Israeli woman, expressed her belief that all people were “chosen,” not just the Jews. Sami responded by saying he believed the Hebrew tribe was chosen to bring the highest law to mankind–– how to treat your fellow humans. And the law was for everyone.
I don’t know how to find Sami now. I am in Gaza City, only minutes from Jabalya but Sami could be anywhere on this planet. That Seder was 10 years ago. Iris continues:
It was easy to forget he was only sixteen, especially the day he brought an Israeli Major to his history class for a Middle East teach-in. It was a moment of face to face dialogue. Major Stav Adivi, a leader in the Israeli refusnik movement, was speaking in New Mexico, explaining why he refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, although he would gladly defend Israel with his life. Having little prior knowledge of the issues, the history students were confounded by the discussion but for Sami it was the opportunity of a lifetime. He had been given a chance to have an honest and public dialogue with a major in the Israeli Defense Army, the same army that had brought death and destruction back home. They stood as equals in front of the classroom, both speaking from their hearts, both wanting to end the occupation, the injustice and the deaths.
Major Adivi believed that security for Israel would come with the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. A defensive wall should follow the Green Line, he insisted, the 1967 international boundary between Israel and Jordan. Sami boldly walked to the chalkboard and erased all the separation lines drawn by Stav, and stated his dream. “I wish to live with the Israelis in one unified country, where everyone is treated equally before the law.” His faith in that vision was breathtaking.
Sami, wherever you are, I hope your vision comes true. I hope you are safe. I hope your life is unfolding as you dreamed. I hope we will reconnect one day.