Arik Ascherman

Our Seder for S. Tel Aviv residents and asylum seekers

We are sitting in the heart of South Tel Aviv. From time immemorial Pharaohs and oppressors have used fear to pit oppressed groups against each other.  Generation after generation of veteran South Tel Aviv residents live in poverty.  Today greedy developers want to destroy their neighborhoods and turn them out.  Asylum seekers have fled unspeakable horrors.  Those who trying to save their neighborhoods are labeled as racist and uncaring. Those trying to make new lives for themselves in a strange land are deemed to be a cancer and a threat.  But, tonight is different.  Tonight is the feast of freedom. By the very act of sitting together, we free our minds, and break the shackles of misunderstanding. Tonight we refuse to be enemies.  Each of us comes with our own pain, our own needs, our nightmares of the past and our dreams for the future.  We say to all, even those who have come to protest against us- Ha Lakhma Anya. This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  We remember our bitter pasts to strengthen our resolve to build a different future.  By our being here together the bread of affliction becomes the bread of freedom.  Let all who are hungry come and eat. All who are needy, let them come and celebrate with us.  This year we are here. Next year we will be in the Promised Land. This year many are slaves to their fears. Next year we will be free.

And there were days of darkness in Sudan, and in Eritrea, and in many places. And there was great fear in Africa.  And men, women and children fled for their lives.  And they became refugees, and asylum seekers. They who had money travelled by air and by sea. And the poor travelled many days by foot, until they reached Egypt.  But, they found no rest in Egypt, for there too, their lives were in danger. They said, “The people of Israel have known great suffering and days of darkness. They will know the soul of the stranger. Surely there we will find refuge and rest. From Egypt they travelled to Sinai.  There, many were slaughtered by evildoers, with Amalek in their souls, who took from behind the weary and the exhausted. They kidnapped and raped, and demanded ransom.

And the asylum seekers travelled from Sinai to the Promised Land, and were filled with great joy when they arrived. 

But, a new spirit had arisen in Israel. The people remembered only their own pain. They did not know the soul of the stranger. The ministers said to their people, “There are numerous and mighty peoples who are infiltrators among us. They are as a cancer. Let us deal wisely with them, lest they overwhelm us and there will be no Jewish State in the Land.”  And, they closed their borders, and forbade them to work, and concentrated them in poverty stricken neighborhoods, and pitted weakened newcomers against weakened citizens. And the lives of both asylum seekers and citizens of the neighborhoods were made very bitter. Yet, the asylum seekers still seemed great and mighty in the eyes of the Children of Israel, who feared them with a great fear. And they jailed them in detention facilities, in Kitziot, and in Saharonim, and in Holot. Some asylum seekers left “of their own free will to Uganda and Rwanda.” There they were robbed and sent away. Many were murdered or drowned. Others were jailed, enslaved or tortured. When asylum seekers heard the fate that befell those who left, they said to themselves, “It is better to be in and Israeli jail, than to perish.” So, the ministers said, “Let us make a new law, so that we can expel all the asylum seekers.”     And the asylum seekers sighed a great cry, and cried out in anguish.  At first, the Children of Israel did not hear, and did not wish to hear. But, God heard.


And God heard, and remembered God’s own command to the Children of Israel: “You shall not oppress the stranger. For you know the soul of the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) And God desired to redeem the Children of Israel and the asylum seekers together: The Children of Israel living in poverty in South Tel Aviv, and the asylum seekers. And God said, “I will circumcise your hearts. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit among you. I will remove your hearts of stone, and give you hearts of flesh.  You shall love Adonai your God, and all those who are essentially like you, and the stranger living among you, who is also as you, for s/he was also created in My Image, and you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.  And I will also redeem the Children of Israel living in poverty and distress.”

Many of the Children of Israel opened their eyes, and there arose a great cry. But, there were also many who could not hear because of their own distress and suffering, and because of the deceitful words of the ministers.

And the days of expulsion neared.  And then…  Here our story ends, but is not completed.  It is up to us to determine how the story ends.

And God asked, “Who shall I send, and who will go? Who will be for me as a helpmate to open the hearts of my people, until the fetters of wickedness are unlocked?  Until the cords are untied? Until the oppressed go free and you break off every yoke? Who will cry with a full throat until every yoke is undone? Who will not look away? (Based on Isaiah 6:8, 58: 1, 6-7, 9)

Together: Hineini! Sh’lakheini!  HERE I AM ! SEND ME!

Next Year in Jerusalem As Free People!

(I prepared these readings for the seder that took place in South Tel Aviv this past Wednesday. They are an updated version of readings I prepared for a seder at the Holot Detention Center  two years ago)

Shabbat Shalom and a Joyous Passover

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.