Know the Heart of the Stranger — A Passover Reflection

Josh Friedes Image
Josh Friedes
on April 20, 2016

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Each year J Street releases a Haggadah insert that demonstrates the ways in which the holiday’s story and traditions remain relevant today as we confront the social and political challenges in Israel, the Unites States and around the globe.

This year as with the xenophobic rhetoric in the presidential election here at home and a growing trend of incitement in Israel, Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a member of the J Street Cantorial and Rabbinic Cabinet, and Sarah Beller, J Street’s Director of Programming and Education, have written a supplement, “Know the Heart of the Stranger.”

This year’s supplement highlights two beautiful passages of the Torah, “Know the heart/the feelings of the stranger, for you once were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9) and “Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).

Visotzky and Beller remind us that we tell the story of Passover so that we remember to empathize with “the other,” so that we will not do to others that which was hateful to us.

One of the challenges we have as American Jews is that we often do not have the opportunity to know Palestinians living in the United States and we are even less likely to know Palestinians living in Israel or the Palestinian territory. Many of us do not have significant exposure to undocumented immigrants, transgender people, Muslims or other constituencies who make up the fabric of American society but are often treated as “the stranger” or “the other.” The Passover story reminds us that the moral compass provided both by the Torah and our history should guide our interactions with those different from ourselves.

As we prepare to sit down for our seders, I hope you will integrate our Passover supplement into your evening and reflect on whether we are living by our teachings here in America and in Israel.

The supplement provides a series of discussion question for the table:

As you think about the current situation in America and in Israel ask yourself: Who today is being treated as “the stranger” or “the other” in the United States? Who is being treated as “the stranger” or “the other” in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza? Drawing on the Jewish historical experience of being strangers, what action can I take to help alleviate the challenges faced by those who are treated as “the other” today?

Using the supplement and asking the question is a great way of connecting our traditions to the challenges of contemporary America and Israel and reminding ourselves of our responsibility to live out our values.

You can download the supplement here.

Josh Friedes is J Street’s Director of Rabbinic and Synagogue Engagement