Talk about mass emigration. The Exodus, the story of our ancestors' departure from Egypt that we will recount next week at our seders, is the most dramatic of flight stories. Yet it represents only the beginning of our journey as a people on the move, a people who, throughout much of our history, were forced to flee oppression, degradation and persecution.
This history, so central to our identity, should make us particularly sensitive to what it means to be displaced and what it means to begin life again in a new country. This history should resonate when we grapple with the complex issues surrounding immigration today.
The Haggadah tells us that in every generation, every person is obligated to see himself or herself as if he or she personally went out of Egypt. We are also told repeatedly throughout the Torah to remember the stranger, because we, too, were strangers in Egypt. As it turned out, we became strangers even in lands that we once called home, places where we thrived. We were, at varying times: expelled from Spain, persecuted in the Pale of Settlement, exterminated in Europe, driven from Arab lands and oppressed in the former Soviet Union.
From each of these places, Jews departed the land of their birth -- sometimes by choice, sometimes by force -- seeking the promise of a better life elsewhere.
But as our ancestors fleeing Egypt quickly learned, physical freedom is not the end of the story. Any new immigrant will tell you that it takes perseverance, determination -- and often generations -- to find the spiritual freedom to be able to call a new land home.
While the flow of Jewish immigration to America has slowed to a trickle, immigrants seeking refuge and opportunity continue to arrive from around the world. Our nation is grappling with questions of who to allow in, who can stay and how to apply laws and handle undocumented residents.
The problem is that states, including Pennsylvania, are acting on their own rather than pushing for federal immigration reform that will address these complex issues in a fair and humane way.
In an attempt to personalize the stories of newer immigrants and raise awareness about these issues, the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Coalition on Immigration has developed a program titled "Why Immigration Matters: A Month of Jewish Reflection, Study and Action."
That this initiative, reported in a Jewish Exponent cover story this week, coincides with Passover is no accident. In this season, when we recount our own defining story of liberation, it is most appropriate for Jews to take the lead in advocating for the newer "strangers" in our midst and their own struggles to find a place called home. We were, after all, once them.
Have a happy and kosher Pesach!