They lit candles, praying that those suffering around the world find light in the darkness. Dipping karpas into salt water, they saw the tears of all who suffer injustice.
Abdul Jalal Hashimi then watched the congregants of Temple Beth-El in Richmond break the matzah, the bread of affliction, symbolizing the deep brokenness in the world and the commitment to repair it.
Hashimi knows brokenness. The 32-year-old refugee from Afghanistan remembers when the Taliban moved into the province where his family had fled and how the group shuttered schools for females. He eventually aided American military forces for six years, receiving threats toward himself and his family from the extremists.
He knew he had to leave his country, and immigrated to America under a special program for those who aided the United States.
“When I said goodbye to my family, maybe I wouldn’t return home,” he said.
On Tuesday, he dipped his fingers in drops of wine, symbolically mourning — along with the congregants — the millions around the world suffering “plagues of hatred, prejudice, baseless violence and war.”
Hashimi was one of approximately 30 locally resettled families who attended Temple Beth-El’s Seder, a meal marking the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday, on Tuesday.
The Jewish people are a rootless one who have fled persecution time and again, Rabbi Michael Knopf told his congregants and the refugee mothers, fathers and children who sat with them.
“We are a refugee people,” Knopf added.
Beth-El was part of a growing number of Jewish communities who included refugees in their Seder this year, weaving the ancient Passover story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt with the stories of the refugee families.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish World Service recently published a supplement to the Haggadah, a special text from which the Passover story is told during one of the holiday’s rituals. The supplement links the Passover story with the refugee crisis and adds prayers and personal stories.
ReEstablish Richmond, an organization that helps refugees put down roots in the local community, joined Temple Beth-El in organizing the event. Knopf said the idea didn’t receive pushback from his politically diverse congregation.