Because Passover is a refugee story, one synagogue invited refugees to Seder.

Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, is marveling at the length of his to-do list for Tuesday's Passover Seder.

Photo via iStock.

The food still has to be cooked, the Haggadahs proofread, and volunteers wrangled.


"[It's] a little bit crazy, but in a good way," Knopf says.

His stress is understandable. This year, Beth-El is preparing to host over 100 congregants and some special first-time guests: about 50 refugees, most from Afghanistan.

The Seder, first reported by WWBT-12 Richmond, is the congregation's attempt to connect the plight of the millions of refugees fleeing violence and chaos around the world with the central themes of the Passover story, which commemorates the biblical account of the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt.

"Our foundational story, which is the one we celebrate on Passover, is a refugee story," Knopf explains.

Knopf is one of a growing number of American Jewish leaders who are putting refugee stories front and center at their Seders this year.

Photo by Temple Beth-El.

The Passover narrative, which tells the story of a people fleeing slavery under an oppressive regime, strikes a particularly timely chord with Jews who see themes of perseverance in the face of persecution — and an obligation to help those suffering under it in the present — as central not just to their history, but their religious narrative as well.

In 2016, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) began issuing a Haggadah supplement that draws an explicit parallel between the biblical exodus and the global refugee crisis. The addition includes new prayers and readings, as well as four personal stories of individuals who fled persecution in their home countries. Knopf plans to incorporate the supplement into Beth-El's Seder.

“[This is] a really critical moment for the Jewish community to really step up and say with a loud voice that we support welcoming refugees, that we know the dire consequences of shutting the doors of our country to refugees, and we won’t stand for that happening again," says Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, HIAS education director and author of the supplement.

Over 300 congregations have signed up for HIAS' Welcome Campaign, joining a statement of support for admitting more refugees into the United States.  

Temple Beth-El is going one step further by inviting refugees to the Seder table.

"This is the first time that we’ve had a faith community say, ‘We are going to raise money to pay for a sit-down dinner for refugees and really welcome them in a very hospitable and really special way," says Kate Ayers, executive director of ReEstablish Richmond, a local refugee aid organization that is co-sponsoring the event with the synagogue.

ReEstablish Richmond's "Taste of Afghanistan" dinner in 2016, where Afghan immigrants shared their cooking with locals and volunteers. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

About 400 refugees were resettled in Richmond in 2016. Most worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, while others hail from Iraq, Sudan, Bhutan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A few of the guests have volunteered to share their personal stories at the dinner.  

One of the scheduled speakers — Abdul Jalal Hashimi, an Afghan translator whose family was repeatedly threatened for his decision to assist American soldiers — told the synagogue's newsletter that he hopes the event will "help people understand each other."

Abdul Jalal Hashimi. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

The organizers hope to arrange the seating to help the newcomers — many who were doctors and engineers back home — get to know local professionals in their field, as most are still working survival jobs in Richmond.

Since many of the refugees have never met a Jewish person or attended a Passover celebration before, Ayers went family-to-family to explain the significance.

"The way that I was able to connect it the most was just to explain that this is a dinner that is a holiday for the Jewish community, and it’s a holiday where they remember when they as a people had to escape for their life because of persecution, and they want to welcome you as someone who’s experienced that same thing," she says.

Knopf hopes the meal will also be a "holy"  experience for his congregants, many of whom may have never met a Muslim person or a refugee.

ReEstablish Richmond volunteers help recently arrived refugees navigate the Richmond bus system. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

"Just to see the world expand for people is really powerful," Knopf says.

While he braced for a potential backlash, he says he's received virtually no pushback from his politically diverse congregation. That, he hopes, is a sign that the message of the holiday — and the moment — is resonating.

"There’s a saying in Judaism that a little light dispels a lot of darkness," Knopf says. "So even though we’re just one little community in one little city, I think we’re doing a lot of illuminating for at least this group of people."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Yamiche Alcindor/Twitter, U.S. Department of State

It takes a lot to push a career diplomat to quit their job. A diplomat's specialty, after all, is diplomacy—managing relationships between people and governments, usually with negotiation and compromise.

So when the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, whose "diplomatic experience and demonstrated interagency leadership have been honed directing several of the United States government's largest overseas programs in some of the world's most challenging, high-threat environments," decides to resign effective immediately, it means something.

Daniel Foote, who was appointed special envoy to Haiti in July of this year, explained his decision to quit in a strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Blinken. His resignation comes in the wake of a wave of Haitian migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border and widespread reports of harsh treatment and deportations.

"I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life," he wrote. "Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own."

Foote went on to describe the dire conditions in Haiti:

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