Immigrants Celebrate Special Israeli Seder

African Refugees Know Meaning of Passover Story Firsthand

Free for Now: African immigrants wave matzos at a special Seder in Tel Aviv. Although they are Christians or Muslims, many of the newcomers experienced the Passover story firsthand in escaping from dictatorship and destitution in their homelands.
nathan jeffay
Free for Now: African immigrants wave matzos at a special Seder in Tel Aviv. Although they are Christians or Muslims, many of the newcomers experienced the Passover story firsthand in escaping from dictatorship and destitution in their homelands.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

While many of those in attendance, like Brohane, felt it was an occasion to celebrate their arrival in Israel, there was also reference to the problems facing newcomers. As South Sudan is now independent Israel wants to deport illegal immigrants from there, though they did recently win a reprieve until the fall. There are government efforts to stop them from working. And a large detention facility is under construction where the state hopes to incarcerate new arrivals, instead of allowing them free movement as is now the case.

“We may have our freedom, but we do not have our dignity and we do not have justice,” says the event’s Haggadah, referring to these grievances and others.

A British immigrant to Israel, Nic Schlagman, came up with the idea of the “Refugee Seder” four years ago. He recalled: “I was volunteering with refugees, and one of them asked about Passover and we started talking, and I thought: what better way to appreciate the freedom story of Passover than to share a meal with those who had been through journeys like theirs.”

That year he organized the Seder in Lewinsky Park, a popular hangout for new immigrants. It attracted 500 people.

Schlagman, who is now humanitarian coordinator at the African Refugee Development Center nonprofit, has since managed to get numerous organizations to support the annual Seder, including Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Once the service was over and the immigrants tucked in to curry, rice and soup served by volunteers, they spoke of their enthusiasm for the sharing of traditions that was underway. Zak, a 36-year-old Muslim who arrived from Sudan in the fall, said that he was fascinated by the “very holy story” and by the fact that it is also mentioned in his religion (given his illegal status he declined to give his last name).

Amsalem Man, a 35-year-old Sudanese who has been in Israel since December, said that he hoped that experiencing Passover would help him and other immigrants to start acculturating to Israel. “We need to make strong connections between Israeli culture and our culture,” he said.

The food finished, a disco with African beats went on late in to the night. The well-known Israeli musician Idan K was on the turntables.

“Because of what my family went through in the Holocaust,” he shouted to the Forward over the blaring music. “I feel I should give something.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.