By Chaya Singer, Executive Director SAZF Cape Council
As Jews join together from around the world to celebrate the festival of Pesach, we are taught to commemorate our journey as a nation from slavery to freedom, by telling our children the story told to us by our parents, as recorded in the ‘Hagaddah’.
This is from the Hebrew verb ‘l’hagid’ or ‘to tell’, which emanates from the Divine instruction that we should tell our children throughout our generations of the story of the liberation of our forebears from slavery, and experience again in our own generation the freedom that comes from learning the life lessons of the past.
The imperative to record and remember, is a fundamental tenet not only in Jewish tradition but in Jewish law, and is at the heart of Jewish continuity. We tell this ancient story through the symbolism of the seder, across time and space, wherever we live in the world, at every time in history, sometimes in perilous secrecy, as a message of hope and faith to survive, and at others to be humbled and thankful, to be living in prosperity and freedom.
This Jewish commitment to literacy, story-telling and education, informs our collective memory of more current events too. At a time when the generation of Holocaust survivors are passing on, the responsibility of gathering and preserving their eye witness testimony, to the systematic murder of six million Jews in Europe, four generations of my own family among them, is an essential deterrent against antisemitism. Together with our many friends, Jewish communal institutions are mandated to ensure that we will never allow this chapter in our history to repeat itself ever again.
The generation that remembers a world without an independent Israel is also passing on, those who fought and built, and who know of all the lives lost and saved when persecuted Jews had nowhere else in the world to go. It is for organisations such as the South African Zionist Federation to protect our ancestral and biblical Homeland, which we read of in the Haggadah, and ensure that there will never be an abandoned Jewish refugee again.
This Pesach we stand up against human trafficking and slavery, against hate, dehumanisation and othering, against racism and xenophobia. We stand with all victims of mass atrocities and genocide, including the Tutsis, Yezidis and the Rohingya. We come together in friendship, to share matzah, the bread of affliction and the bread of healing.
As a South African, Pesach is also a time to reflect on our country’s journey from Apartheid to Democracy, to honour those who died and lost in the Struggle in the fight for Human Rights and equal opportunity, and I am reminded that reconciliation towards social cohesion is a process that starts around a table of family and friends.
This year we celebrate the historic Abraham Accords, and the series of normalisation agreements which have been signed between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and Kosovo. As we share the lessons, cultures and customs of our histories, we are empowered to reach forwards to attain shared ambitions and aspirations for the future. We are committed to building post conflict bridges, because hearts and minds can change when people are given opportunity to connect. It starts with telling our stories.
L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim. Chag Sameach!
• Published in the print edition of the March/April Pesach 2021 issue. Download the March/April 2021 issue PDF here.
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