Refugees Find a Place at Seders Across the Country

By Rachel Nusbaum,

Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

This year, across the United States, many added a new element to their retelling the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt: discussing the current plight of the world’s refugees at their seders.  

From Washington, D.C. to Rochester, NY to Highland Park, IL, families and groups brought the global refugee crisis out of the headlines into their gatherings, using HIAS Passover materials to spark discussions and remind themselves of the plight of millions fleeing war and persecution around the world.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, an immigration and human rights lawyer who works with refugees on a regular basis, used HIAS’ Seder supplement at her family’s second night seder in Bethesda, Maryland.

“Many of my clients are refugees and asylum seekers, so this is a subject that is very much on my mind. Actually, we just had a case of a refugee, a torture survivor, that we won the day before passover, on Thursday. So this hit very close to home.”

Sherman-Stokes also had personal reasons for wanting to expand her seder this year. “I have two very young children, so I wanted to start incorporating themes of social justice with them.”

“I liked acknowledging that we have stood in the shoes of the refugee and taking a moment to place ourselves there,” Sherman-Stokes said.

“It was also a conversation starter.” People went around the table sharing their own family’s migration stories. “My husband shared a story about his grandfather, parts of which I hadn’t even heard before.”

Many who used HIAS materials to bring refugees into their seder, like Sherman-Stokes, have a direct personal connection to the issue. For Jamie Metzl, the connection was his father’s refugee experience.

“My father was born in Austria in 1935,” Metzl told HIAS.  “He and his parents escaped to Switzerland in 1938. When they arrived in the United States as refugees in 1948,  a HIAS representative met them when they stepped off the train at Kansas City’s Union Station. At that time, none of them spoke a word of English or knew anyone in Kansas City,” Metzl said.

People also took to social media to share their decision to #standwithrefugees this passover.

Tali Merdler of Us Together, HIAS’ resettlement partner in Cleveland, Ohio, shared this image on instagram:



Many also took to twitter to share their support.



As Sherman-Stokes said, “Passover is the time in the jewish calendar when we are really thinking about strangers and refugees, and especially at this time in our history, it couldn’t have been more relevant.”

Did you include refugees in your seder or remember them this Passover? Let us know. Share your own story with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Make sure to tag @HIASrefugees when you do!

Search HIAS