April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bo: Let My People Go, Then and Now

Shemot: 10: 3, 12: 17

Whenever the family flew to Miami to visit Savta and Grandpops over the winter break from school, it was always an adventure. From a fossil hunt behind the local Dunkin Donuts (complete with a stop for calorie-laden treats) to an African safari barbecue by the pool in the backyard, there was no predicting what might happen next.

So when Savta presented her granddaughter Rebecca with a small box wrapped in shiny paper and a bow, Rebecca could hardly contain her excitement. What could it be? Earrings? A new game? A wind-up gorilla?

Rebecca made quick work of the wrapping paper and opened the box with anticipation. Inside she found a large Star of David on an old gold chain. The star had once been painted gold, but a lot of the paint had worn off. Two of the corners of the star were bent backwards, giving it the appearance of an old western sherriff’s badge from a town where perhaps the sheriff had lost his last gunfight.

“Thanks Savta, It’s beautiful.”

“Don’t mention it, dear.”

“What is it?”

“Read what it says.”

On one side of the star was raised lettering that read Shlach et ami in Hebrew, and in English LET MY PEOPLE GO. In the center of the pendant was a smaller Star of David, this one wrapped in chains with a lock at the bottom of the star in the shape of an old Soviet hammer and sickle symbol.

On the back of the pendant were the words USSR PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, with a name written above the lettering. The name was hard to make out—Izia something—it had been rubbed thin over the years.

“Since you’re here the week of Parshat Bo, I figured this would be the right time to give you this.”

“How come?”

“Because the words on the star come from last week’s and this week’s parsha. ‘Let my people go.’”

“Doesn’t that refer to leaving Egypt?’

“That’s right.”

“So then why is it on that old jewelry?”

“Glad you asked. About 30 to 40 years ago, there was a bad country that wouldn’t let Jews practice their religion and wouldn’t let them leave the country to go to places that would let them worship freely. Some Jews were even put in jail for their beliefs. So Jews all over the world protested so that they could go free. We wore necklaces like this one—your Mom wore this one for a long time—and we went to giant rallies to protest their treatment. Grandpops and I even flew to that country, which was called the Soviet Union, for a few weeks to meet with those Jews and to offer them support.”

“Wow. Was it dangerous to go there?”

“It could have been, but we went there and got out without an incident.”

“That’s amazing.”

“I suppose it was, but I’m not telling you this story to impress you. I want you to learn something.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s that we Jews must be dedicated to supporting freedom. Later in the parsha, when Hashem describes the laws of Pesach, it is written that the holiday should be observed Ledorotam ad olam, for your generations as an eternal law—in other words, forever.

“The pasuk was referring to the need to observe the holiday every year forever, but I’ve always felt it also meant that it is the Jewish people’s job to fight for freedom and equality forever. We need to remember that we were once slaves and now we’re free. That means fighting for freedom of other Jews to worship freely, whether in the old Soviet Union or wherever it may come up.

“I also think it means we have to stand up against the persecution of all people whoever and wherever they are, Jewish or not. That could be in Russia or the Sudan or wherever injustices occur.”

“What’s persecution?”

“Let’s just say it’s when people aren’t being treated fairly or are put into danger.”

“That’s pretty heavy, Savta.”

“Yeah, I guess it is, but as you get older, hopefully you’ll remember what I said and take it to heart.”

“Until then, can I just wear the necklace for fun?”

“Of course you can.”

“And next time you get me a present, can it be, like, doll clothes?”

“How about a whole doll?”

“Works for me.”

By Larry Stiefel

 Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.


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