Jewish humor always has a little edge of darkness to it. Take for instance the familiar summary of 99% of our holidays: “They tried to kill us, we won, now let’s eat!” For thousands of years, the best we could hope to celebrate is the fact that we were present. We could use this to describe Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, Yom HaAtzmeut, and even Sukkot. In truth, celebrations like Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, holidays that have nothing to do with warfare, are partly celebrations of Jewish survival. On all these days, we thank God for enabling us to reach this occasion with the words of shehechiyanu. We quietly acknowledge that so many of our ancestors were not able to celebrate their Judaism freely. On these days, and in every moment that we actively acknowledge our Judaism, we bear witness to the history of our people: to the Golden Ages and the eras of oppression.
With Purim in the rearview mirror and Pesach coming soon, we begin to reflect on our national story--older than 1948 and 1776. We remind ourselves that once we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but today we are free. Therefore, our Torah compels us to root out all oppressors from our midst and free all those who are enslaved. The first step to freeing the oppressed is bearing witness to the pain suffered by the enslaved.
This past Shabbat, over 50 congregants traveled together to Montgomery, Alabama, to bear witness to the over two hundred years of oppression that took place in our country against the African-American community. At the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, we walked among the rusted iron columns representing the hundreds of counties where the thousands of African-Americans were lynched for no other reason than for the pigment of their skin. As Jews, we know that the only way to heal is when we talk about our pain. At millions of seder tables this Spring we will recall the injustice of slavery at the hands of Pharaoh. Once again, we will bear witness to the pain of our own slavery and the unifying power of our redemption.
I hope that the experience we shared in Montgomery is something that more of our congregation will experience in the coming months and years. As we work to move this world from where it is to where it needs to be, we must continually remind ourselves that slavery and oppression come in all forms. We must walk hand in hand to fight against hatred and help to heal our world.
Register HERE for this year’s fun and meaningful Temple Emanu-El Second Night Seder on April 20th.