April 3, 2023

Thoughts for Passover

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 4:15 am

As we will soon be gathering for the annual remembrance and celebration of Passover in our homes, in our houses of worship, and in spirit with our fellow American Jews and Jews throughout the world, I cannot help but be conflicted by the blessings of freedom of religion, justice and the democratic process that allows us to live as Jews in this country, and the rise of polarization, extremism, inhumanity and warfare that exists with and amongst our fellow man.  It  saddens me that the common values of kindness, respect, and tzedakah do not seem as universal and that many communities are not as welcoming as in past years.

There should be a lot to think about when our Passover Haggadah guides us through the spiritual journey of liberation, a theme that has resonated with so many in difficult times.  Each year it becomes more apparent to me that the freedom gained by the Children of Israel is like many benefits and privileges,  in that freedom comes with responsibility.  As Moses repeatedly spoke the word of God to Pharaoh, Let my people go, we often do not hear the rest of the commandment,  So that they may worship me!

In this instance, as in most biblical stories, a privilege is given or received for a specific purpose.  We are given freedom to fulfill God’s will, and to set an example of holiness for mankind.  Our Torah tells us that this is a task so foreign and difficult that the Children of Israel needed forty years of lessons and wandering in the desert to rid themselves of the selfishness and servitude acquired in generations of slavery.  To be fair, it must have been a monumental task requiring great courage for a people conditioned to serve, to be able to learn how to be free, make choices, and trust their decisions.

Today we live in a world where freedom is widespread, yet we see freedom being abused in selfish pursuits and we see freedom being used as a right to do whatever one wants without regard to others.  The freedom so that may worship me, as a communal freedom to provide for a functional, safe and harmonious society.  Clearly, this involves making individual sacrifices for the greater good, so the whole is more valuable the sum of the individual parts.    This is the call and the prayer that concludes our seder each year, that we hope to live in a world at peace,   a world of universal freedom, Next Year in Jerusalem!

Furthermore, like most things of value, freedom is a right that must be earned.  It must also be protected and nurtured.  The events of recent years have made clear to me that one cannot sit idlily by while human rights and the institutions that protect human rights are under attack.

Our recent Federation Film festival presented four films that addressed difficult issues of racism, discrimination, tyranny, oppression and moral dilemmas.  All were powerful films about our responsibilities to our fellow man.  In each of those films we saw what happens when we do not take responsibility of what happens in our communities, and we become a silent majority.  

While it is not possible to correct every wrong in the world, Shared Legacies clearly showed that we can be agents of change.  We can make a difference by standing up for equal rights, marching for justice and demanding we treat our fellow man with dignity and respect.  Neighbours showed us that we can maintain our humanity while oppressed by practicing kindness, welcoming the stranger, and working for the best outcomes despite difficult times.  The Ritchie Boys showed we have the power to work for change and to work for justice.  Sure, cruelty and injustice make as sad and distraught, but it shouldn’t make us feel helpless or powerless.  We do have ability to make a difference and that power should motivate us.  Farewell, Mr. Haffman made us ponder our humanity and where we would draw the line between survival, and our own morality and values.

We do not have to be victims.  We can attend causes and events that Celebrate Diversity, promote equality, justice and democracy.  There are limitless ways to be involved in organizations that look to achieve these goals.  We can write letters to the editor of our local paper and lobby our elected officials.  We can educate our family and friends. We are not helpless or powerless.

So to quote a car bumper sticker that caught my eye, “Get Involved, the world is run by those who show up.” As the driver of this car knows, there can be no passengers. For the good that we value we must show up, because there are no guarantees that our tomorrows will be as kind and as just as our yesterdays.

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