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As we think about the ancient plagues, let us also keep in mind those who still live under the weight of modern plagues.
At seder tables, we ask four questions to remind ourselves of our purpose. This year, we ask you to add four more questions to connect our ancient rituals to the demands of this moment in the struggle for racial justice.
This legislative session, members of the Florida legislature are working to pass legislation that will chill free speech and assembly by threatening to criminalize peaceful public protest. The bill would intimidate and punish peaceful protesters.
Passover is my favorite time of year. More than exchanging presents on Hanukkah or blowing shofar by on the beaches of the Atlantic on Rosh Hashanah (my family’s tradition), Passover is when I am most able to connect with my family and my own Jewish values. While the extended meal and Seder lend themselves easily to close interpersonal and spiritual renewal, it’s the central concepts of Passover that make me return to this time of year again and again with excitement and energy; Passover is a holiday about social justice and freedom from oppression. It is an opportunity, among family and friends, to dig deeper into the issues of our time.
As we sit at our Passover Seders, we relive the story of how our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt, and how they were freed. Our history of slavery and redemption calls on us to speak up against injustice in our world today, especially when it comes to workers’ rights. Modern-day slavery continues to be a scourge on humanity worldwide, and it is imperative that we take action to end it. We also should not lose sight of the national policies we can enact to ensure that workers who are employed in the open marketplace are treated with justice.
When we sit down for the retelling of the Exodus story at our Passover Seder each year, we are both retelling and reliving that experience. As Jews, we are taught that “in every generation, all of us are obliged to regard ourselves as if we had personally gone forth from the Land of Egypt.” Victoria Levi, who we met in Selma while commemorating Bloody Sunday and hearing from inspiring Jewish activists like Peter Yarrow, inspired me with her story.
We often talk about climate change and environmental initiatives to combat the human-made disruption of our earth’s systems and exhaustion of its resources. However, while climate change is a threat that affects us all as sea levels rise and we experience more frequent extreme weather events, people of color and low-income people across the United States and the world will be disproportionately burdened by the most damaging impacts of a changing and less habitable climate. Less economically stable communities are unable to bounce back from the devastation to infrastructure caused by extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Similarly, communities of color are significantly more likely to live near toxic waste facilities and to unequally come into contact with polluted air and water.
One of my favorite things about Reform Judaism is how much the Reform Movement accepts multicultural families and celebrates diversity. The Reform Movement has always stood for inclusion and acceptance of all types and ways of being Jewish, and our wholehearted embrace of interfaith families is a demonstration of our commitment to pluralism even within Reform Judaism.
On Passover, Jews around the world eat matzah instead of leavened bread to remember how the Jewish people did not have time to wait for their bread to rise before they were escaping slavery in Egypt. While matzah can be delicious in certain forms – there is nothing like Grandma Fineman’s matzah meal pancakes, her chocolate covered matzah, or her matzah brei recipes – after eating the umpteenth peanut butter and jelly sandwich on matzah, the unleavened staple can start to seem old or tiresome. When seeing boxes upon boxes in grocery stores, I am among the first to groan. Yet even though we may not enjoy eating matzah, we have to remember that we are lucky to have food on our tables and in our bellies, unlike far too many people in our country.
The United States has a mass incarceration problem. While only having 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, making us the world’s largest jailer. Between 1980 and 2012, the U.S. federal prison population rose from about 25,000 inmates to 219,000 inmates, an increase of more than 790 percent. In fact, at the end of 2013, an estimated 6,899,000 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems, which includes those incarcerated in prison or local jail in addition to those supervised in the community on parole or probation.