For the fifth year in a row, we’ll be sharing this holiday with our friends in Rwanda. We’ve mastered the art of home-baked matzo, printed up internet-available Haggadahs, and gotten over our longing for sweet kosher wine on the table. Unlike Ethiopia, and many other countries in Africa, there is no synagogue here and the community is fragmented. But the spirit of Passover is particularly strong. The holiday takes place just a few days from the start of the national commemoration of the 16th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
Rwandans feel a deep camaraderie with Jews. The connection dates back centuries and some Rwandans consider the Tutsis one of the lost tribes of Israel. One of the companies with which I work, Rwanda Ventures, employs an Israeli agronomist who is admired by farmers across the country (though he flew home for his Seder this year).
The Passover story resonates strongly with our Rwandan friends—even those who know almost nothing about modern Judaism—not only because they have known unspeakable oppression, but also because so many in their country remain enslaved by another oppressor: poverty. As we sit around our Passover tables with friends and families and make our Hillel sandwiches of matzo, bitter herbs and sweet charoset, we’re reminded of the scholar’s words more than two millennia ago: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”