Supplementary Seder Readings
Remembering the oppressed--and others in need--at the seder
As we hold the bread of affliction, we recall that more than 3,000 years ago our ancestors went forth from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. Many never left the Middle East. Today, we remember not only the bitterness of that slavery, but also the forgotten exodus of one million Jews who fled the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century.
The Jewish people have been living in Egypt and throughout the Middle East for more than 3,000 years. As Jews, we take pride in being the Middle East's oldest, existing ethnic group.
Wherever we lived, from Morocco to Iran, we made enormous contributions. Sasson Heskel, a Baghdadi Jew, was Iraq's Finance Minister in the 1930s. Mourad Bey helped draft the Egyptian constitution in the 1920s. And Layla Murad, the great diva of Arabic music and film, was also an Egyptian Jew--the Middle East's Barbara Streisand. We cherish the sweeter memories from periods of co-existence.
But, for all our success, we encountered racism and oppression that ultimately drove us out. Jewish community centers were bombed, family members thrown in jail on trumped-up charges, and innocent people lynched before cheering crowds. Arab governments often froze bank accounts and prevented Jews from leaving with more than one suitcase.
The circumstances of the exodus differed from country to country. Some left because of intimidation, others by explicit expulsion. But the pain and anguish of being uprooted from the only homeland these Jews ever knew was the same.
We hold the bread of affliction and recall the 135,000 Jews of Iraq who once made up a plurality of the city of Baghdad; the 40,000 Jews of Libya, where today no Jews remain; and the 80,000 Jews of Egypt, many of whom in 1956 received government expulsion orders. Just as the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise, these modern Egyptian Jewish refugees did not have time to pack their bags.
And hundreds of thousands more, from Morocco, from Yemen, from Syria, from Iran, from Afghanistan. Some of these refugees fled to the U.S. and Europe. Most went to Israel, where Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent now comprise a majority of the population.
The scars of the past can heal. But justice can only be achieved when peoples and governments in the Middle East recognize the plight of the forgotten million refugees. This year, we pray for the day when justice will be achieved for the Jews of the Middle East and when all peoples of the region will live together in peace and harmony. Amen.
The symbolism in this reading is the same as in "the Matzah of Hope." (Some added a fourth additional symbolic matzah to the traditional three covered matzot in order to remember oppressed Ethiopian Jewry, Jewry of Arab lands, and Soviet Jewry still waiting to be redeemed. We then read:)
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