We took the opportunity on this warm late April day to have our first real walk along the lakefront. The lake is deep and wide and holds heat in the autumn and chill in the spring; today it proved true to form. Still the strong April sun kept us warm.

As is the custom of our congregation, Friday evening”s community seder was a potluck. The evening was soggy and cold, yet Jennie managed to carry, her fractured ankle in a new medical boot, a tray of freshly baked macaroons safely into the synagogue. (I was trying to find a place to park the van.) Standing in the midst of us, the rabbi dedicated the evening to all who are migrants or refugees, and to the 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. She reminded us that Torah insists we have all been migrants and must offer aid and hospitality to all who are forced to wander.

As she danced and sang, the rabbi suggested that we must use whatever privilege we may hold to aid the dispossessed or enslaved, rather than allowing ourselves to become complacent in times of plenty. Inevitably there are many who are not so blessed, who have become displaced by violence or climate change. Sadly, much that we westerners enjoy comes to us from the labor of persons, including children, who are essentially slaves.

When we settle into our comforts, the struggles of others may seem far away indeed. How easy it is to forget that the wealth of these United States was built through the labor of slaves, the theft of Native and Spanish lands, the genocide against Native people, and later, the colonizing of distant lands and people. Even now people of color and Natives disproportionately face state violence and environmental illness, and Native women continue to experience violence and death at alarming rates.

Those of us in the disability community may be surprised to discover that persons of color, those who identify as LBGTQ, and those who are poor or working class too often have insufficient or nonexistent access to critical medical care, housing, and disability supports. For those without essential care, the struggle for inclusion and infrastructure access may seem irrelevant.

Perhaps Walter Benjamin was correct that the Angel of Death, once loosed upon the Egyptians, has continued to roam the world, causing ever more suffering, no longer differentiating between good and bad, slave owner and slave. If we do nothing to soothe the suffering of others, surely she will come eventually to everyone’s door.


4 thoughts on “Passover

  1. What a great message, Michael. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with guilt that I have so much privilege. I have spent many hours pondering the injustice of birth – something we can’t have a say in but impacts our lives immensely.

    1. Pat, I think injustice is partially about the vicissitudes of birth, and more about greed. I do not see much good in guilt as it so often stops us from listening and acting, or even noticing the injustices we live with…..

  2. Michael, this is such an on point message. I often think about this when evaluating faith and spirituality. I had stopped going to synagogue for a while, but realized that thinking about religion and the true meaning of performing mitzvot can be a uniquely social and emotional action (guided somewhat by faith). Those of us with the privilege to live more comfortably can be allies to those communities and individuals who suffer daily due to systemic racism, ableism and other forms of social and cultural injustice.

    I’m learning to be an active listener to those whose voices are stifled. Sometimes as activists, advocates and educators, we project our own biases on others we’re working with. Even though we think we are being helpful, it isn’t the best course of action to take. Assuming we know what is best for marginalized people can be shattering for those who need a platform to express themselves. We need more leaders from these communities, and they’ll let us know the issues that are pertinent to them. That’s what teaching has taught me…Students who have had difficult backgrounds persevere through a democratic, problem-posing model of interaction where they’re valued as co-creators of knowledge and experiences. Seeing them rise above and beyond the oppressive nature of our society is empowering for everyone.

    Thank you for this post, the dialogue and the work you do!

    1. Adam, such a lovely response! Yes, the voices of those who truly know are crucial. Oddly, those of us who are vocal and live as members of marginalized groups are very often asked to speak for those groups. Of course, everyone has a unique experience even as there are similarities that arise from group membership. Somehow the task seems to be to give voice to one’s experience, stand up for those whose voices are not honored, and refuse to allow one’s experiences to be globalized so that others are erased. This, as I imagine you know well, is quite the challenge.

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