Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Invocation for Yom HaShoah
Six weeks ago, in the cold heart of a frozen Central European winter, I stood at Thereisenstadt Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic. Thereisenstadt was famous as the show-camp used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, demonstrating to the Red Cross and other casual observers of the Shoah how wonderfully the Nazis treated the Jews. There are parts still in existence of a film called, “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City!” which is shown daily in the theater there, as a reminder.
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Invocation for Pima County Board of Supervisors April 18, 2017
We have just completed the holiday of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom that has become the model for liberation struggles everywhere in the world. While Passover commemorates freeing the Israelite slaves from Egyptian bondage well over three thousand years ago, we are constantly reminded throughout the week of Pesach to view the world as though we, personally, had come out of slavery. The Hebrew phrase that typifies our holiday: B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim, in each generation everyone is obligated to see oneself as though he or she came out of Egypt.
It is this personal relationship to liberation from bondage that has made the story so powerful: Benjamin Franklin thought the symbol of America should be the Israelite slaves exodus from slavery; African-Americans sang “Go Down Moses” as an anthem about their own servitude and quest for freedom; in our time, Nelson Mandela used the Exodus as a model for his own people’s fight against apartheid.
We can all relate to the essential human need for freedom from servitude.
But there is another central aspect to the Passover story, and it begins once the Israelites, the ancient Jews, escape violence and tyranny. It is the tale of the refugees themselves, who flee brutal oppression and seek a new life.