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Following World War II, many Jews were confined to displaced persons (DPs) camps in Allied-occupied countries. Among them were my parents and parents-in-law.
This week, we will celebrate the holiday of Passover, when we remember the process that led the Jewish people to become free in the land of Egypt. Part of this process will include discussing the Ten Plagues. At my family’s seder in Atlanta, we use goodie bags with various small toys that resemble each of the plagues. In these bags there will be three toys that resemble a lack of health: small plastic insects to represent lice, a small rubber cow to represent the cattle disease that killed many of Egypt’s domestic animals and bubble wrap to represent the boils that deformed the Egyptians. In Jewish tradition, lacking health and adequate health care is viewed as a plague, an issue so damaging that God viewed risking your health as a serious enough threat to cause Pharaoh to free the slaves.
This recipe calls for adding fresh beets to the horseradish for color and flavor, but you can make both white and red horseradish - just set some aside before you add beets to the whole batch.
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.