We say that message every year during the Passover seder: Let all who are hungry come and eat. It is an ultimate truth of our Festival day! We recall moving from the degradation of slavery to the liberation of journeying to the Promised Land. We celebrate our freedom by eating a bread of affliction, matzah. This “poor man’s bread” reminds us of how we were once strangers in a strange land. With that knowledge, with that memory, we are to be good, kind and generous to the stranger because we know what it is like to be a stranger. A stranger, after all, is someone who is a part of a society that is not his own. Without that support system, without a network, the stranger is vulnerable.
The Torah also teaches that if you are part of the community, not a stranger, then the community has a responsibility to take care of you when you are facing hard times: “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land that the Eternal your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” (Deut. 15:7-10)
Passover’s message, then, of opening our doors to someone who is hungry, is of primary importance? But would we really do it? We open the doors of our homes to symbolically welcome Elijah the Prophet to drink that fifth cup of wine reserved for him at our seders. It is the cup of redemption! The message is that if Elijah comes, we will mark the time of peace for our world. But our sages teach that Elijah will be dressed as a beggar, looking for someone – anyone – to welcome him in to a home for the Passover meal.
I believe it is time to take this message to heart. While we might have concerns about security relating to welcoming someone we don’t know into our homes, we have a chance to enact this tradition in a very real way through the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) of Family Promise. We are launching a branch of Family Promise in North Fulton, rallying congregations of different faith traditions together to respond to people in crisis. The IHN is a program modeled throughout the country where congregations open their doors to homeless families for one week, four times per year. I am proud of our Board of Trustees to have agreed to join the IHN and for us to open our doors to support these families in crisis.
This is where we need you!
We will need volunteer teams to help make dinners, prepare cold breakfasts, organize a space within the synagogue, get supplies, provide welcoming gifts to our guests, and at least one man and one woman to stay overnight in the synagogue to be sure we are good hosts to our guests. (Since we will have families staying over, I will encourage our hosts to be families, too! My family will be participating in staying overnight, too). During the day, the families will either go to work, go to school, or go to a day center where they can receive the assistance they need. They will not be here during the day, but only in the evenings and to sleep at night. After their stay with us, they will go to their next synagogue, church or mosque.
People are still in a variety of “Egypts” today in our world. The Egypt of poverty and homelessness is more than most of us can even imagine. As we celebrate Passover this year, let us take these words to heart: Let all who are hungry come and eat! Let’s open our sacred house up to four families at a time that need the help of people of faith – of people who want to do God’s work. We need you to help us help these families.
To get involved, please contact Andy Fried, email@example.com, Marci Fried, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jeanne and Jeff Schultz, email@example.com. Watch for more information in May! The program will not formally start before the summer, but we want to get our teams together so we will be ready to launch. [UPDATED JAN 28, 2013: The Organization was launched this month… TBT’s first hosting opportunity is the week of March 10, 2013!]