EUJS x HIAS: Refugee Seder

EUJS x HIAS: Refugee Seder

Date: 03/03/2020

Event type: Seminar

Organized by: European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS)

Location: Brussels

The Modern Exodus: A Jewish Contribution to the Migration Crisis

By Elias Dray

As part of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) 'EU Activism Seminar 2020', 20 Jewish students and young leaders came to Brussels for a week of trainings and meetings with Jewish NGOs, Members of the European Parliament and various other stakeholders. On the 17 February 2020, HIAS held a dinner together with the seminar attendees, hosted by the Quaker Council for European Affairs.

The evening started with a presentation of Celia Gomez, Programme Officer of HIAS Europe on the refugee crisis. Celia's introduced the group to basic facts and definitions of words such as migrants, refugees, aid, and more. Pauline Wautié, from Convivial - Mouvement d'Insertion des Réfugiés (Movement for Refugee Insertion), then presented the Asylum and Integration System in Brussels, guiding us through the legal requirements of both domestic regulations (Belgium) and European laws, such as the Dublin Regulation and the Geneva Convention.

Guided by Ilan Cohn, HIAS Europe Director, we then proceeded to read through the HIAS Haggadah, which specifically links the biblical history of the Hebrews in and out of Egypt with the contemporary challenges of migration. Indeed, the Haggadah, book of the Jewish holiday of Passover, recounts the story of the Hebrews leaving Egypt and its afflictions, to the Promised Land. The HIAS Haggadah establishes a parallel between the suffering of the Hebrews — in Egypt, their way out of Egypt and the harsh life awaiting them — and the current issues of the migrants.

It allowed the group to reflect on the responsibility we hold, as young Jews, to bring help and relief to those who need it. Beyond the biblical story of the Exodus and the long path to the Promised land, the Jewish history was also made of migrations, either necessary or forced: the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the pogroms in Eastern Europe during the 19th century (the reason why HIAS was founded) and, more recently, the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during WWII.

As we went through the third part of the Seder, Karpas, when we dip bitter herbs in salted water to remember the bitterness and difficulties of the Hebrews in Egypt, we recited: "[...] We remember that our freedom came after tremendous struggle. [...] We recognise that today, there are still 68 million people making these treacherous journeys away from persecutions and violence in their homelands. We bring to mind those who have risked and sometimes lost their lives in pursuit of safety and liberty."

At the end of the Seder, Bushra, a Sudanese refugee, proceeded to tell us his story. Bushra arrived in Brussels X years ago. Although he didn't struggle so much, he told us, he knows a lot of asylum seekers who, at the end of the process, didn't get a stay permit, and went undocumented, living in fear of being deported back to the place they fled.

What do we take back from this evening? That the story of the immigrants of today is no stranger to the one of the Jewish people. That being Jewish means we are the ones who do not need to be reminded to never forget and to help others. That we can take action, because we as a community know what it means to be afflicted and to suffer.

How can we act? With initiatives such as the HIAS Refugee Shabbat. The HIAS Refugee Shabbat 5780 will take place on March 20-21, 2020, and is a moment for congregations, organisations, and individuals around the world to dedicate a Shabbat experience to refugees and asylum seekers. More information to be found on the HIAS website at

As Elie Wiesel said, we must swear "never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. [...] Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.