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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

May Director's Note -- "In Their Shoes"

I am writing this after the Holocaust Memorial Day, two weeks after Pesach and Easter, and a few days before Israel’s National Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and the celebrations of the Day of Independence.

This is an intensive week for most Israelis. This time of the year is loaded with personal, national and universal symbols and meaning. Passover marks the liberation of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, their redemption from their Egyptian oppressor and the beginning of their 40-year journey in the desert on their way to materialize their freedom in their homeland.

To quote the HIAS Hagadah Supplement "The heart of the Passover Seder tells the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. During the retelling of this story, we say the words, 'Arami oved avi.' This phrase is sometimes translated as "My father was a wandering Aramean" and other times as "An Aramean sought to destroy my father". Somewhere between the two translations lies the essence of the Jewish experience: a rootless people who have fled persecution time and time again."

The Holocaust Memorial Day is still, 72 years after the end of the Second World War, a painful reminder of the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews in Germany, in Europe and in fact all over the world, to create a world free of Jews and Judaism.

In 1948 the State of Israel was established. The Jews finally got their freedom and their homeland. The War of Independence followed the declaration of Independence and the establishing of the Jewish state. Memorial Day, the day we remember our fallen soldiers, is linked, symbolically with the national celebration of the Day of Independence.

This is the time to think of the tests the Jewish people and Israelis were challenged with. This is the time for us, Israelis, to remind ourselves, our children and our future generations what it took to finally make it to independence and to being free in our own prosperous country. Moreover this is the time of the year when we should all be reminded what it was like to be abused, to be singled-out from society, to be discriminated against and persecuted by law.

The HIAS Hagadah Supplement suggests that "we place a pair of shoes on the doorstep of our home to acknowledge that none of us is free until all of us are free and to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not yet have a place to call home"

Indeed this is the time to remind ourselves that Israel declared itself to be different, because of the tragic experiences of the Jewish people. We intended to respect the freedom of all our citizens, regardless of religion, color and race. This is the time to act in accordance with our beliefs and desires to live in a free world, with equal rights. This is the time to seriously consider changing the policies and attitudes towards asylum seekers seeking refuge in our country.

Here in Israel there are 40,000 African asylum seekers, and now more than ever we should try and "put ourselves in their shoes" and increase our efforts to make their burden more bearable.

~ Josie Mendelson, Director

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