The festival of Passover is starting tomorrow. This year our experience of the Seder will be very different, we are separated from our extended families and find ourselves either alone or in our nuclear families. We are grateful to our computers, tablets, and phones which connect us to the outside world, our families, and our friends. Some of us, like me, have to accept that I need to let ‘strangers’ care for my parents who survived the Holocaust and who taught me that whatever happens, the most important thing is for the family to be together. However, this year I cannot be there for my parents and I am indebted to the carers and nurses who are taking care of my parents.
This year in our new situation the AJR Refugee Voices Testimonies speak to us in a different way. I find myself thinking about the interviewees who were in hiding for a long time, not knowing when things would change. I am thinking of the interviewees who tell us that their parents shielded them from the ‘outside’, so that they would not understand the threat they are in. I am thinking of my mother, who always said her teenage years were stopped by the war. I am thinking of the interviewees who talk about food and rations. In no way do I want to compare our mostly comfortable confinement to our homes to the experience of our interviewees, but I do believe that we can take inspiration and learn some wisdom from our interviewees who have lived through a very difficult period of history, in which they had to face separation, displacement and uncertainty. I love listening to the messages of our interviewees recorded at the end of our interviews. One in particular comes to my mind today. This is a message by Walter Brunner, born in Vienna, who came to Britain, aged 16, with the help of Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld. He says: ‘Try to help people, people who are in need, try to give some time, give some effort, give some love to the community, to the people, they desperately need it, and never mind, you might need it as well sometimes so give it now, whilst you can. I am grateful to many, many people who have looked after me, who have helped me’.
So although we are not physically together with many of our loved ones this Pesach, we can be spiritually together as a family and a community and as Walter Brunner urges us to do, help in any way we can and be grateful for everyone who can provide help (such as the amazing NHS doctors, nurses, and carers). After Pesach, we are planning to continue interviewing refugees and survivors. Please get in touch if you or a family member would like to participate in our newly developed programme of ‘Refugee Voices Remote Interviews’ (either by phone or Zoom).
I wish all our interviewees and supporters a healthy, happy, and virtually connected Pesach and Easter.
Dr Bea Lewkowicz, 7 April 2020