Shoelaces on Seder plate or Easter dinner table–to remember the refugees & asylum seekers

Posted on Apr 15, 2019

We invite Jews doing a Passover Seder and Christians having a celebratory Easter dinner to consider adding shoelaces on our Seder Plate or Easter dinner table–to recall the fate of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.

While this was originally proposed by Rabbi David Leipziger Teva for Seders, I’m inviting nonJews to use this same symbol as a way of generating discussions at your meals this coming weekend about what the U.S. is doing to some of the most vulnerable and powerless people on the planet.

The Trump Administration last week fired the head of Homeland Security for being too “soft” on refugees and asylum seekers. So we hope if you know Trump supporters to ask them what they intend to do to care for the refugees and asylum seekers (though not from a standpoint of moral arrogance on our part, recognizing that the Obama Administration deported over two million refugees (more than all the previous administrations combined had deported). The Torah is filled with commands to love and care for “the stranger/the Other,” a command being systematically violated by our sisters and brothers in Israel as they deny the Palestinians equal rights, and Christians might remember the Gospel account of Jesus’ family having to seek refuge in Egypt to escape the tyranny of Herod, Rome’s appointed governor of ancient Judea which the Roman colonizers had renamed Palestinians after the Greek mythological goddess figure Palestina.

Yet today many of us in the Jewish world recognize that WE are all descendents from refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, the Seder guide book, the Haggadah, begins the “telling of the story” of our suffering under Pharoah by recounting that our ancesotrs were refugees when they came to Egypt, only to eventually be enslved there. We invite our non-Jewish allies to also identify with their own ancestors who were surely refugees at one point in their lives, particularly those whose ancestorss came as refugees or asylum seekers the United States where a more generous and caring attitude prevailed every once in a while in US history (though not so much for Catholics, Italians, Irish, Poles, Chinese, Japanese, Pacific Islanders, Mexicans, Muslims, and Jews). And this hostility toward “the Other” in the U.S. was an extension of the deep racism that provided the background for the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement and continuing oppression and racism toward African Americans. — Rabbi Michael Lerner . Editor, Tikkun

Please circulate this message to your friends, to your online social media, and in discussions during this week and coming weekend.

Here is what Rabbi David Leipziger Teva proposed and why the shoelaces:

Shoelaces on the Passover Seder Plate?

In thinking about the 92,607* migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces. Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered “nonessential and potentially lethal” is confiscated. How ironic, distasteful and shameful that such an inexpensive, low tech and highly efficient piece of string that guided these migrants through deserts and rivers must be personally unlaced and surrendered to a tax payer funded USCBP agent. This is all done in the name of safety and protection. But who exactly enjoys increased safety and better protection when migrants and refugees are degraded and their shoes fall off?

Our Israelite ancestors did not cross over into a promised land with the help of the 18th-century shoe lace, and I am unsure what held together the shoes of my border crossing German and Italian refugee ancestors when they arrived in Brazil in 1939. As we prepare for Pesah, let us be reminded of A.J. Heschel who taught that in any society “some are guilty but all are responsible.”

So in 2019/5779, corresponding to the third year of Pharaoh Trump’s reign, I invite you to place a worn, dusty shoe lace on your Seder plates. What might the shoelaces force your Seder participants to investigate and acknowledge? Shoelaces might also serve as new friends and allies to some of the other symbols – the haroset/mortar, salt water and the orange. Imagine the scintillating conversations and arguments these symbols might even have amongst themselves…

To the thousands of imprisoned migrants and refugees in our country, we wish we could personally welcome you into our Passover Seders to hear your stories and bear witness to what you have endured. Please know that wherever you are, you are not alone, and during our Seders you will be on our individual and collective minds.

This year in a time of oppression and servitude, next year in a time of increased liberation and solidarity.

Happy Passover and Chag Sameakh,

*Just for perspective 92,607 individuals = 3086 a day= 285 an hour= 5 people a minute. So by the time you finish reading this an additional seven people will be detained by USCBP in California, New Mexico Texas and Arizona.
To view an artistic representation of this by artist Tom Kiefer, check out:

Rabbi David Leipziger Teva
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life
University Jewish Chaplain
Wesleyan University