Today is January 21, 2019 -

A Time to Reflect

By Rabbi Steven Abraham

It has been said that Jews have a sixth sense, the sense of memory. There is no doubt that our most common denominator as Jews is our bond to certain watershed events in our people’s past. This is a bond that travels through our religious identity, for it makes no difference whether someone was born Jewish or converted in; our ancestors are their ancestors, our stories are their stories. We all have certain memories, photographs in our own minds, or smells that take us back – if only for a moment – to a different time and place. While these memories are our own, as Jews we also have memories of events for which we were not even present. On Passover we are told to remember the day we left Egypt and act as if we, too, were redeemed along with our ancestors.

The directive we are given in the Haggadah tells us “In each and every generation a person must see himself as if actually coming out of Egypt… It was not only our ancestors who the Holy One redeemed, but all of us as well were redeemed along with them.” [Passover Haggadah]. As Jews, it is our moral responsibility to remember those who came before us, for if they had not endured the hardships
that took place in Egypt, we would not be able to sit here today.

Yet how do we do that? How can we remember an event that we can only read about in books? One way is exactly what we are told to do during the seder; that is to sit around the seder table and tell the story in a way where it becomes part of our own narrative. By telling the story year after year, almost by osmosis, the story becomes our own and we become part of the journey that started over 3000 years ago.

At its core, the story of the exodus is about our journey from slavery to freedom. Just as we tell and re-tell our own story, so too must we listen and learn from others who have been on journeys that have led them from injustice to freedom. As Jews, perhaps more than any other group, we have an obligation not just to treat the stranger as our own, but to stand up and act when we see an injustice taking place.

This year at our Beth El Community Seder, I am thrilled that we will be joined by Mr. Bidong Tot. Mr. Tot is a first year teacher at Bryan High School, where he teaches US and World History. In addition to his other accolades, Mr. Tot is also the first ever Sudanese teacher to work in the Omaha Public School System.

“Tot grew up in the small town of Akobo in what is now the country of South Sudan. His father was a
farmer, and he helped by taking care of cattle and goats. When he was about seven years old, he left with his father to go to school in neighboring Ethiopia and ended up living in a refugee camp there for several years.”

“In 1999 he and his siblings — three brothers and one sister — were approved to leave the refugee camps and travel to the United States, ending up in Manchester, New Hampshire. Several months later they joined an uncle who had settled in Omaha years

earlier.” [Omaha World Herald – First- year faculty member at Bryan High, once a refugee in Ethiopia, is OPS’s first Sudanese, Nuer-speaking teacher – 8/26/14]

During the seder, Mr. Tot will talk about his journey; he will share his story with us. At Passover, more than any other time of the year, we open up our homes to guests. I am honored that we can host Mr. Tot and his wife and become a bit more familiar with the growing Sudanese community in Omaha.

The Passover Seder is a time for us to reflect, a time for us to be thankful for our freedom and to realize that while we may be free, there are others who are not.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach