Thursday, 28 Mar 2013

Written by Adam Frankenberg

Speaking as something of a Limmudnik I have always found Limmud to be an intellectually stimulating experience:  one that leaves me buzzing with ideas for many weeks after the conference itself has ended. 
I normally endeavour to attend as many different sessions on as many different topics as possible.  This past year I attended one session in particular that has stayed with me.  Partly this is because it upset me greatly.  It distressed me as a man, as a Jew, and perhaps, most of all, it distressed and troubled me as a passionate Zionist.

The session concerned was led by Rabbi Levi Lauer and concerned the plight of women who have been trafficked into Israel for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

This Passover is the 150th since the emancipation declaration by Abraham Lincoln which freed the slaves in the Southern States of America.  It is also the 180th  since slavery was made illegal in Britain and the British Empire.

If only things were as simple as that, and yet we know that they are not.  Slavery remains a real and contemporary problem.  Many of the consumer goods and clothes we use and buy are manufactured by workers in conditions which come close to slavery.

And even more troubling the trafficking of women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and slavery is endemic: it is a major problem in almost all industrialised counties but it is especially acute in Israel.

Partly, this is a result of geography.  Israel’s border with Sinai is a difficult one to police and as well as weapons, and drugs, armed gangs also smuggle women across the border.  But it is not just a problem of geography it is also a political problem.  In Israel security will always, and understandably, be given the highest of priorities and sometimes this means that things which should not be neglected, sadly, are neglected.

Rightly Israel is an open society, one to which asylum seekers are attracted and, moreover a country which facilitates Aliyah by Jews from across the globe.  Criminal organisations have taken advantage of all of these factors in order to traffic women into Israel and then, often, onward to the rest of the world.

But things are far from being entirely negative.  Israel has tough laws on its books to deal with the problem of human trafficking, it is simply a matter of finding the political will to enforce these laws.

This is where we Jews of the Diaspora can help; there is an established campaign to push this issue up the ladder of political consciousness in Israel.  And all it takes is sending one email once a week!
If enough of us were to email enough members of the Knesset on a regular basis then the problem of trafficked women would no longer be a neglected one.  If the leaders of Israeli society are convinced that we in the Diaspora care about this, then they will care about it more and accord it a higher priority.

We are currently celebrating Passover as a community.  To my mind Passover, the Seder and the Haggadah are among the greatest and most enduring innovations of Rabbinic Judaism. The Rabbis of the Mishnaic period transformed what had been in its essence a cultic rite totally bound to the Temple into the home-based inter-generational celebration that we know today.  They more than succeeded in their endeavours.  With its subtle use of texts, songs and rituals Passover is, now, the near perfect mixture of communal and individual.

There is a tradition that one of the objectives of the readings, rites and songs is to gain a personal and embodied feeling of what the Exodus from Egypt must have been like:  at least in part really to feel as if we personally had taken part in that momentous event.  As if we had really been released from slavery in Egypt.

Peasch is the quintessential festival of freedom.  Freedom is what it is really all about. Towards the end of the Seder it is a custom to sing, ‘We were slaves in Egypt’, and then go on to declare that if the Eternal had not redeemed us from slavery we might still be enslaved.

This Passover we should all take the opportunity of thinking about those women and children who are currently enslaved and also take some simple steps and actions, even as simple as writing the occasional email, to create pressure for their cause to become high profile and main stream. We will only truly be free ourselves when none are enslaved.

Student rabbi Adam Frankenberg

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.