Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, rescued after an airstrike by Syrian or Russian aircraft on his town in Syria in August, 2016.
Last night, as I am sure you know, the United States struck a Syrian airbase. The strike was in response to a deadly sarin gas attack by the Syrians on a city in the northern part of their country that killed 86 people, including 27 children. Since the violence in Syria began in 2011, 207,000 civilians have been killed – 24,000 of them children – including little Omran Daqneesh’s (pictured above) 10-year-old brother, Ali. While Omran survived, the trauma he experienced shattered his little life.
No matter where we stand on last night’s military strike, we can all agree that the actions of the Syrian government and its supporters and the slaughter of innocents is reprehensible. As Jews, the plight of those like little Omran, who are brutally oppressed by their government, is a plight we can too easily identify with. As we prepare for Passover in just a few days, when we will read about our own ancestors fleeing from Pharaoh, the Haggadah reminds us that the plight of those attempting to flee the violence of Syria has been our plight as well.
In memory of the 24,000 children who have been killed in Syria, in honor of Omran and as a reminder to our children and grandchildren, I ask that you consider incorporating “The Four Children” from Next Year In A Just World, a Haggadah prepared by American Jewish World Service.
At Passover each year, we read the story of our ancestors’ pursuit of liberation from oppression. When confronting this history, how do we answer our children when they ask us how to pursue justice in our time?
What does the activist child ask?
“The Torah tells me, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue,’ but how can I pursue justice?”
Empower her always to seek pathways to advocate for the vulnerable. As Proverbs teaches, “Speak up for the mute, for the rights of the unfortunate. Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.”
What does the skeptical child ask?
“How can I solve problems of such enormity?”
Encourage him by explaining that he need not solve the problems, he must only do what he is capable of doing. As we read in Pirkei Avot—The Ethics of Our Ancestors, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
What does the indifferent child say?
“It’s not my responsibility.”
Persuade her that responsibility cannot be shirked. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
And the uninformed child who does not know how to ask …
Prompt him to see himself as an inheritor of our people’s legacy. As it says in Deuteronomy, “You must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
At this season of liberation, let us work toward the liberation of all people.
Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a very meaningful Passover.