Invocation for Pima County Board of Supervisors

on Tuesday, 18 April 2017. Posted in Community Events

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.  

Our entire people began as Wandering Jews, walking the Sinai Desert seeking freedom and a new home in a Promised Land.  According to the Biblical text, most did not make it.  It was not the first time my people was forced to walk the world, searching for a home that promised freedom and the opportunity to live and worship as they wished, and it was certainly not the last time, either.  In fact, for most of our history our people have been refugees and immigrants, searching constantly for a country that would allow us to live as we wished and contribute to that society.

It is for that reason that we Jews understand the great virtue of a nation like the United States, which has long accepted the world’s refugees, and in doing so built the greatest nation on earth out of their contributions.

At this time of great international upheaval, in an era of the greatest humanitarian refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War, we do well to remember this foundational lesson of Passover.  May our nation and its officials remember that our own ancestors, too, came to this country seeking freedom.  And in our treatment of the world’s refugees today may we always manage to remember that great teaching: in each generation everyone is obligated to see oneself though he or she came out of Egypt, and therefore act with compassion towards the stranger, and especially the refugees among us.  Because they are, in essence, us.

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