It is up to us to help Sudanese refugees

Ten days ago, I was in the Al Serif camp in Darfur, Sudan, with Fatima, the girl you see in the photograph. She lives there with 15,000 other refugees.

Not only has she lost her home and much of her family, she has seen horrors no child should ever imagine, let alone endure. Throughout Darfur and Chad, there are thousands upon thousands just like her.

What chills the heart at Al Serif and the other camps like it is the awful silence that permeates the tents. One is struck by the utter desolation. The little girl’s outstretched cup waits for something other than her own tears — for water, for hope. No one can live without a measure of both.

As Passover approached, I gazed at her photograph, reminded of the cup of Elijah. It overflows with the promise of redemption, but Fatima’s cup is empty.

Our seders summon our people’s ancient memory. We experience Passover as if we were slaves in Egypt. We eat matzah to recall our affliction, and we retell the timeless story of what it is to be oppressed. But in the end, there is rejoicing, because our people were redeemed.

In Jewish tradition, the seder is more than a ritual. It seeks to awaken not only our memory but our conscience. Passover is not an exercise in nostalgia. It calls us to identify with those we once were: the destitute, the disenfranchised, the defenseless. It requires this little girl, Fatima, to sit at our table, where she can be seen and heard, where there is a cup not only for Elijah but for her.

Look at her photograph. She is a child no different — except for her misfortune — than your child or mine. She is a citizen of the world, a bearer of the divine image.

When our cups overflow, how can we forget that hers is empty? When we raise the matzah and announce, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” do we mean it? How can we open the door for Elijah, and close it on children like Fatima?

The crisis in Darfur is not only political but humanitarian. Admittedly, medicine, food and shelter are not all that are needed in the Sudan. But there is no arguing with the mitzvah of saving lives, reducing suffering and bestowing hope for a better day, even if it seems distant.

The Israelites were enslaved for generations. But one day, after the long night of darkness, the sun came up and they went free.

A Chassidic rebbe, Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, would leave the cup of Elijah empty. He would then invite his guests to fill it with wine from their own cups, to symbolize that redemption will not come unless each of us helps to bring it.

Here in our comfortable homes, at our ample tables, we cannot wait for the day of redemption. It is up to us to fill Fatima’s cup. And perhaps, we will find that the more we share at this Passover season, the more we will have to celebrate.

Contributions for humanitarian aid can me made to International Medical Corps, 1919 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300, Santa Monica, CA 90404-1950, or MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, 1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and senior moderator at the Aspen Institute. He began his career at Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin.

Rabbi Lee Bycel
Rabbi Lee Bycel

Rabbi Lee Bycel is the Vice Chair of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities and deeply committed to helping JFCS/East Bay and HIAS in their lifesaving work of resettling refugees.