As Jews around the world were getting ready to celebrate Passover, our holiday of freedom, we received painful reminders that so many of God’s children are still enslaved.
We watched our computer screens helplessly as babies in Syria, the victims of chemical attacks, struggled to breathe. We tearfully shook our heads when we saw the bloodstained floors of Coptic churches in Egypt, where dozens of innocents were killed and wounded in their houses of worship.
Being free lays on us an obligation to help those still enslaved. These words repeated in my head as I cleaned for Passover, with my heart aching for clarity on how we, as Jewish people, can fulfill this obligation.
Leading up to Passover, I helped distribute hundreds of Passover food boxes to needy Jews in Israel. On behalf of Christians and Jews around the world, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) distributed over 165,000 Passover food parcels to Jews in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Morocco, and even China. As I handed a food box to Hana, one Holocaust survivor, I witnessed her liberation from the slavery of fear and worry about where her next meal will come from. For that moment, she was free. It reminded me that even a small act can release a big burden from someone’s heart.
Right now, like the rest of the world, the Jewish world is struggling to figure out how we can help Syrian refugees and children. We also don’t know how to effectively reach out to Coptic Christians. Nor is there yet a foolproof way to help all of the Christians being persecuted throughout the Middle East. There is so much suffering and terror, and there are so few answers.
But throughout history, when the Jewish people have been placed in desperate situations, we have always taken out one powerful tool: prayer.
So at this year’s Passover seder, as my family dipped the potato into the salt water to remember the tears of the Jews enslaved in Egypt, we also prayed for the children in Syria whose tears are still falling.
As we ate the bitter herbs to remember the bitter life of Jews enslaved in Egypt under Pharaoh, we also prayed for Coptic Christians in Egypt – and all of the Christians being persecuted throughout the Middle East – who are living with the bitter reality of terror, persecution, and genocide.
And when we ate the celebratory meal with meat and chicken in honor of our freedom, we prayed for Holocaust survivors in Ukraine who are poverty-stricken and hungry.
We must act when there is an opportunity to help people in need, and indeed I have seen The Fellowship’s 1.6 million Jewish and Christian donors come together in an instant to help others. When hundreds of Syrian refugees were going hungry in Jordan, Fellowship donors immediately acted to provide food aid for a year. When Jews from eastern Ukraine had to leave their homes and belongings after war broke out and threatened their lives, we set up refugee camps and brought them home to Israel. And when Chabad houses in Thailand, South America, and throughout the Middle East urgently needed security systems, within hours we provided them.
But every problem doesn’t always come with a quick solution.
And that’s why we have prayer.
This Passover, I will celebrate my people’s freedom. But NEVER will I forget or turn a blind eye to those still enslaved. I will act whenever possible, and pray at all times.
By living and passing on to our children the values of prayer and action, and by teaching them never to turn a blind eye to other people’s suffering, I am confident we will indeed merit our ultimate dream, and the culmination the Passover seder:
“Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!”