Our Refugee-themed Passover Seder

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

28 April 2016

This blog is guest written by my husband, Eric LeVine. Apart from being a successful entrepreneur and technologist, Eric has also focused heavily on Jewish and community related philanthropy and volunteerism. From 2013-14, he was the Board President of Jewish Family Service of Greater Seattle, an agency focused on refugee resettlement, food security, homelessness, counseling, aging/homecare, and Holocaust survivors. In particular, Eric is very passionate about the modern challenges facing refugees.

On April 21, 2016, one day before the official start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, we opened our home to host a very unique Seder. Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, which is in fact a refugee story depicting religious persecution and the flight from slavery. However, even after the Jews escaped, they still wandered in the desert for 40 years before finding their identity and their home. An entire generation, including Moses, was lost before successful integration.

Our goal was to use the biblical story both to honor our traditions but also to spark conversations about the modern challenges around refugees and integration. Last year we also hosted a somewhat non-traditional Freedom Seder that, in part, inspired the format for this year. Like last year, we assembled our own Haggadah. This was based on some of the materials from last year as well the integration of content from a fantastic refugee supplement created by HIAS, the world’s oldest, and only Jewish, refugee resettlement organization.

On a personal note, this was my 46th year attending a Seder, and it was also my 20th Seder with my wife, Ambassador Suzi LeVine. Traditionally Suzi has led the Seder, so this year was a first with me authoring and leading things instead (with plenty of help and co-leading from the Ambassador). And just as Suzi last year reflected on the power of assembling one’s own Haggadah, I too am grateful for the chance to spend a few days pondering each element of the service and why it is there.

The bulk of the 20 attendees were not Jewish, but they were all people with personal or professional connections to refugees including:

  • Ambassadors to Switzerland from Germany, Croatia and the United States.
  • The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
  • Members of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) including their Chief of Mission in Bern.
  • Teachers, integration specialists, anti-trafficking specialists and others who focus on the day to day hard work of integration.
  • And while not identified or even known to us as such, there was even one former refugee in attendance.

The Seder itself touched on many traditional points, but it also delved into modern refugee facts and stories.

  • In addition to the 10 biblical plagues, we discussed 10 modern plagues facing refugees:
    1. Violence
    2. Dangerous Journeys
    3. Poverty
    4. Food Insecurity
    5. Lack of Access to Education
    6. Xenophobia
    7. Anti-Refugee Legislation
    8. Language Barriers
    9. Workforce Discrimination
    10. Loss of Family
  • With each of the traditional four glasses of wine, we offered thoughts and reflections on refugees.
  • And while a normal Seder involves opening the door once for Elijah, we opened the door a second time to place a pair of shoes on the doorstep, thus each committing ourselves to stand in the shoes of refugees.

More important than the Seder and the Haggadah, this sparked nearly two hours of conversation, reflection and debate over dinner. The current issues facing Europe and the world around refugees and migrants are incredibly challenging, and that was highly apparent from the very passionate and personal discussion.

It was an honor for us to host this intimate and truly memorable event.

Here you will find this year’s Haggadah. Please feel free to use, reuse and share it.

You can also see a couple of additional pictures here.