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Passover, Packages, and the Plight of Refugees

Screenshot from a Sunday Stories with F.A.I.R Session (Photo Courtesy Abigail Leibowitz)

Celebrating Passover while a war is raging in Europe and its consequences are felt across the globe reminded me of a famous story.

Two British salesmen went down to Africa in the 1900s to find if there was any opportunity for selling shoes. They wrote telegrams back to Manchester. One of them wrote, “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote, “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.”

This story sheds a light on the attitudes we can use to approach what seem to be insurmountable geo-political challenges this Passover.

This Passover is different from all other Passovers- we not only recount the adversities of ancient days, but are challenged by the adversities of today.

While commemorating the triumph of the Israelites in Ancient Egypt after years of oppression and persecution, and their journey to freedom, how can we rejoice knowing there are millions of people who still face oppression and persecution in our time?

Think of all those separated from their families with no family feast or a place to call home. The 1.4 million Ukrainians fleeing war? What about the displaced of the world -the 70 million refugees surviving in tents and camps in desolate places under harsh conditions? The hundreds of asylum seekers who were denied entry into the US under the brutal Title-42 policy (which thankfully the Biden administration has cancelled)? The thousands of Afghan families still struggling to resettle in the US? They fled violence and brutality, only to be thrown into conditions that expose and exploit their vulnerability and state of turmoil.

It is for this reason that two years ago I founded F.A.I.R– Fans of Asylum and Immigration Reform, a student advocacy group. Inspired by my people’s history of bondage and escape from Egypt, by the story of all the brave Holocaust survivors I have met, my classmates at Northwood High School and I created a student-led group dedicated to seeking justice and aid for refugees and asylum seekers in the United States and at our borders.

F.A.I.R Students Showing Stickers from Freedom for Immigrants Fundraiser (Photo Courtesy @studentsfair Instagram)

During my involvement with F.A.I.R, we met with Delegate Vaugn Stewart about his proposed Dignity Not Detention Act, we recruited 20+ student testimonies and submitted them to the Maryland General Assembly for various immigration policies, we fundraised $360 for Freedom for Immigrants’s Migrant Home through sticker sales, we fundraised $200 for the Young Center for Immigrant Rights through crowdfunding, I facilitated educational teach-ins with 40+ attendees with the DC Detention Visitation Network, Dr. Yael Schacher from Refugees International, and Professor Saba Ahmed from American University’s Immigration Clinic, and we hosted a 3 month long drive for Audelia Community Response, collecting menstrual hygiene products, diapers, and baby formula for over 7 families in the.

Screenshot from a Sunday Stories with F.A.I.R Session (Photo Courtesy Abigail Leibowitz)

On a more personal note, I facilitated virtual ESL reading and game sessions every Sunday with refugee children whose families were resettled in the DC area. During this program, Sunday Stories with F.A.I.R, I met 3 families from Afghanistan that the Lutheran Social Services helped resettle over the last 4 years.

These families are Afghans who helped the US Army with translation and other services critical to the Army’s mission there.

Each Sunday, from November to May, we had virtual sessions with their kids – Amir, Mohammed, Maryam and Sayed. During these sessions, we helped these children practice their English through reading stories and playing games.

This year, under the leadership of my teammate Elon Atlaw, who is a year below me, F.A.I.R has flourished.

I have committed myself to welcoming and assisting immigrants and refugees in the country I currently reside in- Israel- while volunteering at Yemin Orde Youth Village. Yemin Orde serves as a haven for at-risk youth in Israel where they receive the mentorship, nurturing, and support they need. I am proud to share that Yemin Orde is currently welcoming and resettling dozens of Ukrainian refugees. In the spirit of taking small but meaningful steps to help in these efforts, Nativ raised money for and put together 10 apartment welcome packages and 50 individual packages to help the Ukrainian teens settle into the village.

Most Yemin Orde students hail from families of Olim Chadashim from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, and France. These families are not familiar with the language, systems, and institutions that govern Israel and thus struggle to help their teens integrate in a productive manner. While here, I am volunteering at the high school and helping students study for their English Bagrut (matriculation) exams. It has been intriguing and exhilarating to help with the ESL (English as a Second Language) learning process among rudimentary level English

Nativers with the Ukrainian Refugee Welcome Packages (Photo Courtesy Nativ College Leadership Program Facebook)

speakers in Israel.

During the Seder, Jews worldwide sit and chant from the Haggadah, “in every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt.” Interestingly, in Maimonides’ version of the Haggadah it says “one is obligated to SHOW oneself…” with actions, not only words. That was my vision when creating F.A.I.R and is my motivation currently at Yemin Orde.

Much like the second salesman’s attitude in our story, the hardships we are witnessing in this year’s Passover can become a “glorious opportunity”- an opportunity to pledge solidarity- advocate for welcoming refugees and a human immigration policy in any country we reside in, donate resources, and volunteer for those who really need our help.

About the Author
Abby is a student and volunteer on the Nativ College Leadership Program. Originally from Israel, she moved to Silver Spring, MD as a baby and grew up there with her parents and twin brother. Inspired by Jewish concepts of Tikkun Olam and the Jewish refugee narrative, she hopes to go to law school and work in human rights law. Back in the US, she led a student advocacy group called F.A.I.R- Fans of Asylum and Immigration Reform, taught at Temple Emanuel Religious School, and was a teacher’s assistant at CityDance School and Conservatory. During her free time Abby loves to take dance classes, play backgammon (and win of course), and read!
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