As Jews, we tell the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, to remind ourselves annually that our people were enslaved in a land not our own. The classical Ashkenazi haggadah text goes even further. It declares that:
ְ Be'chol dor va’dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim
“In every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt."
More than just ritual observance, we are directed to feel in our own bodies what it might have been like to escape from slavery to freedom. The Exodus story asserts unapologetically that oppresson and injustice can and must end, and it lays the foundation for the Jewish vision of a just society.
This yearly reminder is a central tenet of Jewish history and culture. For many of our brothers and sisters, however, there is no need for a reminder of the story they carry. Many Black Americans feel the lasting effects of American slavery in their lives today. Whether they know their family’s histories or whether, tragically, that history has been lost over the generations, the enslavement of African-heritage people in America needs no annual reminder.
For white-skinned Jews, it is important to remember that today in America we are racially privileged. That privilege, as well as our communal story, should propel us forward into the fight for the full equality and humanity of our Black brothers and sisters, especially when they call on us for solidarity.
We read responsively:
Reader: Avadim Hayinu – We were slaves in Egypt
All: We remember our histories, we acknowledge our pasts.
Reader: Atah b’nei horin – Now we are free people
All: How will we use our freedom? We have a responsibility to fight for justice.
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