Dayenu - For Israel's Refugee Asylum Seekers, Awaiting Deportation on Passover

Bradley Burston tailors the iconic Passover song 'Dayenu' to reflect the plight of African migrants who braved a perilous quest for safe haven only to be subjected to unconscionable mistreatment in Israel.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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An African migrant cries amid a rally for asylum seekers' rights in Jerusalem, December 17, 2013.
An African migrant cries amid a rally for asylum seekers' rights in Jerusalem, December 17, 2013. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

To be sung near the conclusion of the Maggid section of the Passover Seder (during which the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told), and before the Hallel (a series of prayers in praise of all that God has done for us).

1. Ilu Ilu Hotzianu, Hotzianu m'Mitzrayim, Hotziyanu M'Mitzrayim - Dayenu.

[If all that He had done, was to take us out of Egypt - Dayenu, that would have been enough for us]

CHORUS: Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dayenu Dayenu.

2. Ilu Ilu Hotzianu, Hotzianu M'Mitzrayim, v'lo asitem banu shfatim (toch bizui Bagatz) - Dayenu.

[If He had taken us out of Egypt and you not carried out judgements against us (in contempt of the High Court of Justice) - Dayenu]

3. Ilu asitem banu shfatim v'zot hee lo kinta otanu sartan - Dayanu

[If you had carried out judgements against us in defiance of the High Court of Justice and that person had not labeled us "Cancer" - Dayenu]

CHORUS: Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dayenu Dayenu.

4. Ilu zot hee kinta otanu Sartan v'lo chizaktem et liebchem (l'bakashoteinu l'miklat) - Dayenu

[Had that person labeled us "Cancer" but had you not hardened your hearts (to our repeated requests for asylum and refugee status) - Dayenu.]

5. Ilu chizaktem et liebchem v'lo natatem l'bechoreinu l'moot b'machsanei tinokot - Dayenu

[Had you hardened your hearts to us, but not allowed our first-born to die in "Baby Warehouses" - Dayenu]

6. Ilu natatem l'bechoreinu l'moot v'lo tichnantem Erev Pesach l'garsheinu l'Rwanda V'Uganda - Dayenu.

[Had you allowed our first born to die but not planned, as Pesach approached, to kick us out to Rwanda and Uganda - That would have been more than enough for us.]

CHORUS: Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dei-Dei-Einu, Dayenu Dayenu.


VERSE 1: Until the construction of a fence the length of Israel's border with Egypt's Sinai peninsula, tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, many of them refugees from genocide in South Sudan and elsewhere, braved deadly rifle fire from Egyptian security forces, robbery and rape at the hands of locals who offered to help them make the crossing, and other hazards, hoping to find safe haven in Israel.

Many of those who made it to Israel were immediately detained by the IDF. The government, which refrained from setting refugee policy for fear of creating a precedent which might be applied to large numbers of Palestinians, jailed the asylum seekers - some of them for years - though they were never charged with a crime, nor was there evidence that they had committed one, apart from crossing an open border to request asylum.

VERSE 2: Time after time, the Netanyahu government, ignoring the advice of its own attorney general, submitted legislation aimed at arrest, incarceration, and deportation - without a semblance of due process - of asylum seekers, to whom the government routinely referred as illegal infiltrators. The government set up an independent police force to round up the Africans.

The first of the bills specified a sentence of up to 20 years for crossing the border, and the same for doctors, nurses, and others caught giving "assistance to infiltrator."

Though the Prevention of Infiltration Bill was later softened, it would open the door to a succession of other legislation initiatives, all with similar aims. The High Court of Justice repeatedly struck them down and ordered the government to free asylum seekers jailed under the laws, but instead of complying, the government enacted new, slightly revised versions of the same legislation.

VERSE 3: In 2012, Likud MK Miri Regev publicly compared African asylum seekers to a "cancer" spreading throughout Israel. Pressed to apologize, Regev later did so - but only to cancer sufferers who may have been offended by being compared to the Africans.

Regev, a former IDF chief spokesperson and chief military censor, recently declared that she is a candidate for education minister or social welfare minister in the Netanyahu cabinet now in formation.

VERSE 4: Last week, in response to a High Court demand, the government admitted that of the 3,165 Sudanese nationals living in Israel who had applied for refugee status since 2009, it had responded to just 1.42 percent of the requests for asylum, and had not granted refugee status to a single one.

The government added that of the 2,408 Eritreans in Israel who have requested refugee status, the status was granted to only four of them. A total of 997 requests were denied, 72 applicants left the country and 1,335 have yet to receive a response.

VERSE 5: On Monday, a four-month-old baby, the first child of African migrants, died in an overcrowded, understaffed day care facility in Tel Aviv. It was the fifth such death in the last month and a half in one of the facilities, which have been termed "infant warehouses." Some of the facilities, which lack government supervision, have as many as 50 children and just two caregivers.

VERSE 6: The Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority this week confirmed a report in Tuesday’s Haaretz that the authority will begin deporting asylum seekers in the coming days from Eritrea and Sudan to third countries in Africa - apparently Uganda and Rwanda - even without their consent.


The New Israel Fund supports many of the human rights organizations working directly to aid asylum seekers and migrant workers, among them the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers in Israel, Kav LaOved Workers' Hotline, Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights.

If you are in the Tel Aviv area and would like to volunteer to help the children in the day-care centers, spending time with them, telling them stories, showing them warmth and caring, the MESILA organization, which focuses on the well-being of the children of refugees and migrant workers in the city, can be reached at 03-724-8238, or by e-mail at

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