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Remember, You Were Once a Stranger: Va'ahavtem et ha-Ger/Loving the Stranger

April 2, 2014

 

A big parenting job is making sure our children are safe. “Don’t touch the stove!” “Hold my hand crossing the street.” Do not talk to strangers.” These are among the many “safety rules” we ask, cajole and threaten our children to observe.

 

Yet, shortly after we begin our Passover seder, we hold up a broken piece of matzah and say:
 

“Let all who are hungry, come and eat

Let all who are in need, come and share the Pesach meal.”

 

Many households (mine included) make a point of inviting strangers to their Passover seder to ensure that no one who needs a place at a seder table is denied one. I can assure you that you will have some very interesting and educational experiences if you welcome a stranger at your seder.

 

For one thing, it is a perfect opportunity to not only learn about but practice a Torah teaching that is in almost every one of the Five Books of Moses: 
 

“You shall not oppress a stranger; for you know the feelings of a stranger,

having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

 

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens,

and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19: 34)

 

“The same ritual and the same rule shall apply to you and

to the stranger who resides among you.” (Numbers 15:16)

 

“You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

 

Whoah, you might say! What about teaching my children about how dangerous strangers are? I can’t have them befriending people I think might harm them in some way. But think about it for one minute. Is it a terrible thing to invite someone who has just moved into your neighborhood over for a BBQ? What harm is there in offering food to a homeless person? Can teaching a new immigrant how to read damage you or your children in some way? Wouldn’t you want to be treated the same way should you be in this situation? Having myself moved to a number of new cities, I know the feeling of being a stranger, and that first dinner invitation is a true blessing.

 

There are so many ways to help out, and this is the perfect time of year to do so. Here is a list of fascinating books about “strangers”:

 

Each KindnessEach Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

©2012Penguin Young Readers Group. Ages 5-9.

 

Although Maya, the new girl, goes out of her way to try to make friends, Chloe and her friends refuse to be nice. Their snubbing of her eventually results in Maya and her family leaving the neighborhood. A class lesson on how small acts of kindness can change the world, shows Chloe how wrong her behavior was. 

 

 

 

 

BabushkaBabushka Baba Yaga. Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco.

©1993. Philomel. Ages 5-9.

 

Baba Yaga lives in the forest with the animals and the fairies, but she watches the babushkas (grandmas) in the village as they play with their grandchildren and yearns for a grandchild of her own. When she “becomes” a babushka and enters the life of a young family, she finds such happiness. However, she is still Baba Yaga, the “evil witch of the forest” and must protect her “grandchild” at all costs. A true Polacco heart warmer.

 

 

 

Paper craneThe Paper Crane. Written and Illustrated by Molly Bang.

©1985. HarperCollins Children’s Books. Ages 4-8.

 

A small restaurant is left forsaken when a new highway is built. Until a penniless, old man drops by for a meal and leaves a paper crane in payment. With the clap of a hand, the paper crane comes to life, attracting guests for miles around.

 


MagicianThe Magician’s Visit. Adapted from a story by I.L. Peretz. Retold by Barbara Diamond Goldin. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.

©1993. Penguin Books for Young Children. Ages 4-8.

 

A poor couple gives their last few coins to tzedakah (charity), and, having nothing for their own Passover, sets out to visit a neighbor to beg a place at their seder. When they open their door to leave however, a fabulous magician is standing there. He asks to join them for their seder and as they explain they have nothing, he begins to produce all they need. It turns out that Elijah may have paid a visit to this generous couple.

 

 

StrangerThe Stranger. Written and Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.

©1986. Houghton Mifflin Company. Ages 6-10.

 

A farmer hits a man who was running across the road. Taking the man to his home, it appears he has lost his memory. The stranger remains with the farmer and his family until one day he remembers exactly who he is and rapidly moves along.
 

Hebrew for "righteousness," it usually means "charity" or "righteous giving." In Judaism, it refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, including giving to those in need. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Kathy Bloomfield

Kathy Bloomfield founded the website forwordsbooks: kids' books that matter in 2009 to highlight and review kids' books that promote Jewish values. Once again, a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Kathy previews children's books as they are published and searches for classics and those undiscovered gems filled with meaning for today's readers. She writes about them here, at JewishBoston.com, on her website forwordsbooks.com and elsewhere. For more information or for book guidance for your family, please email Kathy at kathyb@forwordsbooks.com.

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