Why is this Seder different to all other S’darim? This is the question we hope many Jewish families will be asking themselves around the table at Passover next week. Every year, we gather to retell the story of the Exodus, recounting the bitterness of oppression and the sweetness of freedom. We are reminded of the obligations we have to others and of the necessity to speak truth to power. It is in this spirit we must recognise that while we have gained our freedom, another minority – Uyghur Muslims – are facing a genocide.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang. In recent years, the Chinese state has been committing genocide against them.
In the last three years, up to three million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in so-called ‘re-education’ camps where Uyghur women are subject to forced sterilisation, families are torn apart as children have been taken away from their families to state-run orphanages, and where outside the camps Uyghurs have been subject to forced labour and modern slavey. The most basic expressions of religious and cultural sentiments have been criminalised; all in an attempt to repress the Uyghurs beyond all consciousness.
While there have been some interventions from the international community, too often the global response has been characterised by silence and complicity.
In September, I began to get involved with the organisation René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights. It is named after a French Jewish lawyer, who having lost most of his family in the Holocaust, co-authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.
Motivated by our Jewish values and horror at the unfolding abuses in China, we worked alongside the Union of Jewish Students to create a resource to accompany the Haggadah at Seder night. It links our ancient struggle to this modern one and is filled with information, questions and thought-provoking topics of conversation.
To physically mark the difference of this year’s Seder, we are asking everyone to place a piece of cotton and yellow raisins on their Seder Plate. We have chosen these symbols to reflect the fact that both struggle and hope exist in this awful situation. Cotton symbolises the oppression faced by Uyghurs, as currently twenty percent of all cotton produced is manufactured by Uyghurs in forced labour. The sweet yellow raisins are a popular snack in Uyghur culture and symbolises the fact that hope still exists for an end to this persecution.
While Governmental responses have often been weak, the Jewish community has been at the forefront of raising awareness and condemning the genocide against Uyghurs. From the interventions of Holocaust survivors and the Chief Rabbi to the headlines of the Jewish News, our response has been strong and unequivocal. In the story of the Uyghurs, we hear the echoes of our own past. This year it is vital to consider the Uyghur story of enslavement and repression alongside our own. Join us to #MakeThisSederDifferent.