A Fifth Question
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A Fifth Question
“Why on this night when we remember the oppression and resistance of Jews should we also think about the lives of people of color?” Because many Jews are people of color. Because racism is a Jewish issue. Because our liberation is connected.
White Ashkenazi Jews have a rich history but are only a part of the Jewish story. Mizrahi & Sephardi Jews; Yemeni Jews; Ethiopian Jews; Jews who trace their heritage to the Dominican Republic, to Cuba & Mexico; to Guyana & Trinidad; descendants of enslaved Africans whose ancestors converted or whose parents intermarried.
Jews of color are diverse, multihued and proud of it — proud of our Jewishness and proud of our Blackness. But though our lives are joyous and full, racism forces us down a narrow, treacherous path. On the one hand we experience the same oppression that afflicts all people of color in America — racism targets us, our family members, and our friends. On the other hand, the very community that we would turn to for belonging and solidarity — our Jewish community — often doesn’t acknowledge our experience.
Jews of color cannot choose to ignore the experiences of people of color everywhere, anymore than we would ignore our Jewishness. We must fully inhabit both communities and we need all Jews to stand with us, forcefully and actively opposing racism and police violence.
But in order to do so, we must pare our past trauma from our present truth: our history of oppression leaves many of us hyper-vigilant and overly preoccupied with safety. As Jews we share a history that is overburdened with tales of violent oppression. Though different Jewish communities have varying experiences, none of us have escaped painful legacies of persecution, including genocide. This past is real, and part of why we gather today is to remember it. But the past is past. However seductive harsh policing, surveillance and incarceration may be in the short term, it will never serve us in the end. Not when those tactics brutalize other communities, humiliating and incarcerating our neighbors and perpetuate a status quo that leaves low-income communities of color on the other side of a sea of fear — still trapped; still stranded. The only real way out of the Mitzrayim of our fears is solidarity. Only by forging deep connections and sharing struggle with other communities will we creating the lasting allies who will walk with us into the promised land of our collective liberation. That is true Jewish freedom — true and lasting safety.
They cried to Moses, “What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt ... it is better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (14:11-12).
When Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, it was a moment of great risk and great change. As the passage above shows us, though life under Pharaoh was cruel and crushing, it was also familiar — a known fear. After a century of servitude, freedom. What changed? It was the Jewish people daring to imagine for themselves something greater. Daring to take great risks and face great fears to find liberation. This willingness to stand up for justice is a strength we have found again and again. When the oppression of economic exploitation demanded it, our grandparents found it in the labor movement; when the civil rights movement demanded it, our parents travelled to the South to register voters. Now this moment demands again that we take risks for justice.
What our neighbors in communities of color are asking — what the Jews of color in our own communities need from their fellow Jews — is that we push past the comfortable and move to action. In the streets, in our synagogues and homes, with our voices, our bodies, our money and resources, with our imaginations. In doing so we must center the voices and the leadership of Jews of color and other communities of color, while forming deep partnerships and long-term commitments to fight for lasting change.
Passover is a time of remembrance but also one of renewal — of looking ahead toward the spring and new growth that will sustain us through the seasons to come. Once we spent spring in the desert. It was harsh and difficult but from that journey grew a people who have endured for centuries. What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?
The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a discussion with lots of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person asks the questions reflects the centrality of involving everyone in the seder. The rabbis who created the set format for the seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If...
Free people ask questions. We begin our Seder with questions. Although the custom is that the youngest at the table asks, tradition instructs that all must ask:
Ma Neeshtana ha-laila ha-zeh meekol ha-laylot? Sheh-bichol ha-laylot anoo ochleem chametz oo-matzah. Halailah hazeh chametz oomatz. Sheh-bi'chol ha-laylot anoo ochleem sheh-ar yerakot. Ha-lailah hazeh maror.
From a distance everything looks like a miracle
but up close even a miracle doesn’t appear so.
Even someone who crossed the Red Sea when it split only saw the sweaty back
of the one in front of him
and the motion of his big legs,
and at most, a hurried glance to the side,
fish of many colors in a wall of water,
like in a marine observatory behind walls of glass.
Leader: We begin with the Passover plate. The four foods on this plate symbolize the four years of Beloit.
Leader: The first item is the bitter herbs.
All: The bitter herbs came from the hot sauce tray.
Leader: The second item is the chocolate Karpas
All: The karpas is some lettuce that we got from the salad bar. It symbolizes...
by Joshua Ratner, Rabbis Without Borders
One of my favorite parts of the Passover seder is the singing that takes place after we finish eating. There are so many great, fun songs, from “Ehad Mi Yodeah” to "Chad Gadya."Perhaps my favorite song is “Dayenu.” The words are fairly easy to sing in Hebrew, and the chorus is so catchy that even those who don’t know Hebrew can easily join in. But beyond its...
As we sit here as free men and women, it is so easy for us to forget the hardships that our ancestors had to overcome for our freedom. The exodus from servile Egypt to liberated Israel is viewed as the most pivotal event in Jewish history. So why do we lean on Pesach?
It was the custom of ancient royalty to recline on the left for two reasons:
a) Food is normally held in the right hand. Leaning toward the...
On all other nights, we get biscuits and rolls,
Fluffy and puffy and full of air holes.
Why on this night, why, tell me why,
Only this flat stuff that’s always so dry.
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of greens,
And I’m starting to like them – except lima beans.
Why on this night, I ask on my knees,
Do we eat stuff so bitter it makes grownups ...
Egypt, no sleet or snow for sure, not even rain or the usually hail.
Nourished only from an ancient wide stream,
On which women secretly shared the boy of redemption.
Our Seder recalls the signs and marvels, the plagues, the costly victory.
We will honor our timeless bread and play with sweet mortar; taste bitterness and tears.
We drink past our fill.
God will split their...
"For me, the recent meaning of Passover in my life has been a reclaiming of the seder ceremony away from the patriarchal tradition. My children may remember the seders of their early childhood, conducted by their grandfather entirely in Hebrew, incomprehensible to most in attendance, unvarying from year to year, except for how long it took until the children were sent away from the table for giggling. Before that, there...
Rumi, the Persian poet of the soul, understands the meaning of love in this way:
Your task is not to seek love
But merely to seek and ﬁnd all the barriers
That you have built against it.
The same can be said of freedom; we build barriers against it, barriers born of fear-fear of death, fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough, fear...
¿Qué hace diferente a esta noche de todas las [demás] noches? ¿Ma nishtaná haláila hazé micól haleilót?
1) En todas las noches no precisamos sumergir ni siquiera una vez, ¡y en esta noche lo hacemos dos veces? ...shebejól haleilót éin ánu matbilín afílu paám eját, haláila hazé shtéi peamím?
2) En todas las noches comemos jametz o matzá, ¡en esta noche solamente matzá? ...shebejól...
The Pesach story begins in a broken world, amidst slavery and oppression. The sound of the breaking of the matza sends us into that fractured existence, only to become whole again when we find the broken half, the afikoman, at the end of the Seder.
This brokenness is not just a physical or political situation: It reminds us of all those hard, damaged places within ourselves. All those narrow places from which we...
Maimonides urged us to care for our bodies so that we would be free to concentrate our energies on God. In the modern world, one of the greatest threats to our physical health is mental stress. Stress causes insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, depression, memory impairment and countless other complications. As women, we are particularly vulnerable to the stress caused by multiple and...
Why should we be conscious of the people who we consider strangers?
Why are human beings treated as if they are disposable based on their living circumstances?
Why is it important to reach out to individuals who don’t have the same rights as us?
Despite what we hear about the working conditions, why do we still support the industries?
More Clips from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Having now told the story of Jews’ Exodus from Mitzrayim we have come to know Miriam, Moses, Pharaoh, Tzipporah and the role each of them played. Sarah Barasch-Hagans & Graie Barasch-Hagans use these roles to help us understand our roles in the fight against oppression — when we are strong allies and when we still struggle to be our best selves.
Singing Dayenu is a 1000-year old Passover tradition. The 15-stanza poem thanks G-d for 15 blessings bestowed upon the Jews in the Exodus. Had G-d only parted the seas for us, “It would have been enough” we say for each miracle or divine act, thus humbly appreciating the immensity of the gifts. KB Frazier’s reworking of the poem addresses us, rather than G-d. It calls us to greater action for justice, saying...
As we open the door for the Prophet Elijah, Graie Barasch-Hagans asks us to love and support the stranger, the beggar and the familial in our struggle for collective liberation, and to recognize that these three peoples are often one and the same.
As Jews we come together in our most vulnerable moments. We come as community to support our mourners in our synagogues and in our homes. As Black folks we have come to...