Remembering is just the beginning. As we prepare to celebrate Passover next week, we pause to reflect upon the bitterness of tyranny, the taste of freedom and the universal longing for human dignity. Over and over we have relived banishment, exile and flight -- from Spain, Morocco, Poland, Russia, Germany, Syria, Ethiopia, Iran.
For eight days every spring, we give up leavened bread to remind ourselves of the plight of our ancestors. The lessons we relearn on Passover help to raise our awareness and create solidarity with the vulnerable populations of today. We keep saying that refugee crises shouldn't be happening, but we continue to see people forced from their homes. Darfuris continue to flee Sudan in the middle of the night fearing for their lives. More than 2 million Syrians have been forced to escape their homes in the wake of the violence and hatred tearing their country apart.
Our own history leads us to reach out to the millions of refugees around the globe, but we must do more than remember. We must act for the refugees today. International law protects them from being returned to danger. But what is to be done when large numbers of people are forced to run, many arriving in safe havens with little more than the clothes on their backs?
To be a refugee is to be traumatized and often destitute. These are people whose lives were changed -- often in the space of a few minutes -- by circumstances over which they had no input or control. Most of the world's 15 million refugees will live out their lives in camps or on the margins of society. As a people, this is an experience we know all too well.
The American Jewish community, through HIAS, partners with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and a cadre of refugee and aid organizations works on the ground, around the world, to help refugees recover and regain a degree of control over their lives. This networkprovides food, shelter, medical care, legal protection and services to help people face the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of violence and abuse.
Massive humanitarian assistance is needed for this work. In Chad alone, this year HIAS is distributing more than 8,730 tons of food to 43,000 Darfuri refugees living in camps who, after being victimized by persecution, are threatened by poverty and hunger.
Because of this, HIAS has joined a campaign to raise awareness about the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty around the world -- to specifically address a population that is so often invisible. HIAS is the first American Jewish organization to partner with this campaign since its founding four years ago.
At Passover, we are called to turn our memory into action, to connect the ancient story of Exodus to our lives today. The Live Below the Line campaign challenges us to live on $1.50 per day for five days, to raise awareness about global poverty and to raise funds to alleviate that poverty. This year, between April 28 and May 2, join thousands of supporters from around the world who will be "living below the line." This year, let us open our eyes to those who have been forced to flee their homes for an unknown future. This year, we are joining thousands of activists to address poverty in a way that can resonate for all of us -- and help all of us understand the importance of not just considering the plight of refugees during a specific five-day period, but every day.
This year, let us pledge to help alleviate the suffering of refugees everywhere.
Follow Mark Hetfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HIASrefugees