The Passover Seder is complete with many symbols and metaphors which highlight notions of freedom at the deepest levels. We focus on freedom from ego, freedom from materialism, and freedom from prejudice. We look to uplift ourselves and those around us.
At the same time, we acknowledge that slavery is not an abstract concept. Those who suffer, experience it as unending agony. The sheer size of the injustice often leads us to miss the individual tragedy of each person made to suffer. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates explained this reality in words written to his son:
“Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feelings as vast as your own… who loves her mother in her own complicated way…and knows inside herself that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.”
At the moment, it does not take great imagination to see the relevance for those fleeing oppression and violence throughout the world. We are still in the midst of a global refugee crisis.
A refrain repeated again and again within the Torah is “do not wrong or oppress the stranger for strangers you were in Egypt.”
In 1951 when the United Nations passed its Refugee Convention, six global Jewish organisations were present. They were there because they had helped craft the treaty. Thus, We as Jewish people have tired ourselves to this cause through collective experience and teaching.
Right now, the Cape Board is engaged in fighting for the reopening of the Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town. An essential government facility which ensures rights to those seeking asylum in South Africa.
Without an office in Cape Town, asylum seekers must travel to Pretoria every two to six months to renew their papers. This is a journey which must be completed with every member of a family seeking asylum, again and again until their final status can be determined. This is a process which can take five years on average and in some instances up to eighteen or twenty.
Last year the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the Department of Home Affairs to re-open the Refugee Reception Office by 31 March 2018. We have yet to see any signs of this ruling being implemented. This is something which we cannot accept. Ensuring the treatment of the stranger within our city is a demand of history and tradition for us as Jewish people.
It is our task to bring justice to these people. People, who as Coates explains are not “an indefinable mass of flesh”, but individuals who experience love, hope and pain as much as we do. May we be worthy of protecting these freedoms in our time.