On Passover, when Jews celebrate liberation, we remember the fight for freedom continues.
Posted in , Apr 13, 2017
“Let my people go!”
It’s the most famous line from the Passover story, a demand by Moses to Pharaoh, dictated by God himself. Every year, the Jewish people recall what happened next—an account of miracles and plagues that led to their liberation from Egypt, the Ten Commandments and eventual freedom in the Promised Land.
As I wrote this time last year, the story of the Exodus doesn’t end there: “Every generation is responsible for winning freedoms that still remain to be won.” It’s no coincidence that I received a reminder of this right before the holiday.
For our upcoming June/July issue of Mysterious Ways, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bernice Steinhardt, daughter of Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. Esther was only 15 when she and her 13-year-old sister fled the Nazis and hid in the forest, escaping certain death. At the age of 50, Esther portrayed the miracles that she believes saved her and her sister in a series of illuminating tapestries.
Toward the end of our interview, I asked Bernice how growing up the child of survivors had affected the person she became.
“It’s in my DNA,” Bernice told me. “I was not only my parents child, I was a child of the 60s and that whole message of questioning authority and resisting wrongs left me with a strong commitment to social justice. My father used to talk about ‘the little guy’ and people who would stand up for the little guy. It was part of how he had internalized his experience, and it was something that he and my mother passed on to me and my sister too.”
“If you talk to other children of Holocaust survivors who are familiar with their parents’ stories—many of them always felt a wish that they could somehow rescue their parents, rescue them from the tragedy and loss that befell them. I felt that too.”
Those motivations inspired Bernice and her sister Helene to create Art & Remembrance, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing such devastation in the future. “My mother’s story highlights the actions that are so tragic to humanity,” Bernice says. “I hope that the people who experience them through the eyes of my mother, just a child at the time, gain empathy for others who continue into this present day to experience those same tragedies.”
Every Passover Seder, my wife’s family concludes by singing two songs—“Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a tradition that began on the first Passover that my wife’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, spent in the United States after liberation.
This year, singing those anthems, I thought about the celebrations that will be observed in the future by those now fleeing conflicts around the world. Families currently making journeys like my family did—like many of our families did, at one time or another—escaping oppression to establish themselves in places of freedom and hope.
“Let my people go!” God commanded, all those centuries ago. Our world is still not there yet. But the more we tell our stories, the more we move hearts and minds to embrace love and freedom and reject terror and supremacy, the closer we get to answering God’s call.
How have you survived? What miracles have liberated you or your family? How have you fought to liberate others? Share your stories with us.