By Abby Levine
There could not be a better moment to consider the intersections of Judaism and social justice than April 2016. Our world, our country, our community, is crying out for fairness and equity, in a multitude of ways. And Passover is just days away, the holiday when we retell the Exodus story and ask questions of freedom and liberation.
In my family, we seize the opportunity of the seder to spark discussions of the world around us. We ask each other what modern plagues we see. We add an orange to the seder plate to recognize the contributions of women to Jewish life. We read a newly released haggadah supplement (see below for suggestions) – or an old one that we really liked from a few years ago.
And we’re not the only ones who see Passover as a chance to engage in discussion about improving our world. A Jewish identity tied to justice is both as old as the hills (or at least as old as the Exodus story) and growing steadily. Pew reports that 56% of Jews say that being Jewish means working for justice. The field of Jewish social justice has grown and matured dramatically in the past 20 years, supported by thousands of Americans with a Jewish identity tied to justice.
What’s more, Passover is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. (A 2012 survey found 68% of Jews participate in a seder.) Why? In part, because Passover is celebrated in the home. But it’s not the only Jewish holiday celebrated at home, so that can’t be the whole explanation. The other reason, I suspect, is that the Exodus story of freedom and liberation is universally inspiring.
Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.
But despite the hope that exists within our tale of redemption, our world is still broken and need of repair. For a moment, I invite you to consider professor and political theorist Michael Walzer’s provocative point from his book, Exodus and Revolution:
“Wherever you are, it’s probably Egypt. There’s a better place, a promised land. The only way to this Promised Land is through the wilderness – there is no way to get there except by joining together and marching.”
What parts of your life, of our society, feel like Egypt, like “Mizrayim,” like “narrow places?” Where is the better place that you want to see us get to? What are you going to do to get there? How will you #ActOnPassover?
Join me and other Jewish social justice leaders as we continue this conversation on social media. Use the hashtag #ActOnPassover to respond to some of these questions, add your own, or tell the world about the social justice issue that you care about. I’m eager to hear what you think!
Abby Levine is Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.
This article was originally published in Sight Line, a journal produced by the Covenant Foundation; reprinted with permission.
Here are some ideas to spark conversation at your seder this Passover:
Read AJWS’ Global Justice Haggadah supplement, including reflections from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chancellor Arnold Eisen and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Check out the Earth Justice Haggadah, by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Ask a Fifth Question at your seder: Why is the Department of Defense letting military families struggle to put food on the table? The haggadah insert is here.
Learn about a modern-day form of slavery in our midst – mass incarceration – with T’ruah’s haggadah supplement.
Discuss Four Questions on Racial Justice from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Order slavery-free chocolate here.