March 1, 2013 admin


There’s an image on the front of the Prague Haggadah, printed in 1526, of an old man being rowed across the sea in a skiff. In later Haggadot the view is wider; there are empty lands to this side and to that, but the figure in the frail boat is alone. He is Abraham, the Ivri, the man ‘on the other side’, the one set apart. It is a loneliness not only Jews, but many others also have often experienced.
As I sat praying this morning I absorbed the sensations around me: warmth from the radiator, the impatience of the kettle nearing boiling, laughter as Nicky told the girls a story, the sound of rummaging, no doubt for one of the many paraphernalia of school. I’ve heard such supposedly unremarkable sounds thousands of times, and paid them little attention. But this morning I thought: Happy the person whose day begins in such a manner; and lucky, if he or she can take all this for granted. And there came to my mind that lonely image of Abraham.
I thought then for a moment of how many people wake up cold, with no place to get warm; without a home, so that there is nowhere to make a cup of tea without thinking because the cupboard, the kettle and the tea have always been and will always be where they should be.
What does a refugee lose? (I belong to the first generation of my family who doesn’t know by immediate experience). A refugee loses home; proximity and comfort of family; friends; mother tongue; money; safety; the capacity to work; the feeling of belonging and being of value; faith in the future; those unquantifiable small skills which constitute security, – knowing how to go to the doctor, get on a bus, send a letter – and which prevent us from feeling constantly unsafe, alone and afraid.
What does a refugee gain? Relief, perhaps, at escaping with one’s life. Images of concealment, danger, maybe torture. Nightmares. Bewilderment, the constant companionship of anguish for those left behind: ‘Mother, when will I see you again? Daughter, will I ever see you again?’
Pesach is called zeman cherutenu, the ‘season of our freedom’. Tradition has taught us to celebrate it by telling stories about journeys, epitomised by the great journey out of Egypt which serves as a metaphor for all our flights and travels ever since. It is the festival of backpacks and borders, of memories, fears and hopes. At its centre is the great meal of solidarity over the bitter herbs of banishment and the bread of exile. At its heart are the great faith and dreams of Judaism and humanity, of human dignity, deliverance, solidarity, justice and peace. Ge’ulah, the ultimate goal, means more even than freedom; it is redemption, where every person and people has their land, their home, their security, and peace.
Pesach is thus also ‘the season of our dreams’. It is the source and living well of all Judaism’s values and hopes.
When Purim passes and Pesach is less than thirty days away, it’s time to begin to prepare. Sho’alim vedorshin, teaches the Talmud, ‘One asks and one searches’: What should I do in my kitchen? What should do I do in our world? What should I do with my life?

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