By Ilana Levinson
Every year at Passover, Jewish communities come together to commemorate, and celebrate our liberation.
It is our duty on Passover to remember with intention, a history plagued with oppression- from our enslavement in Egypt to our endurance of discriminatory regimes that have suppressed our self-expression and driven us out of our homes. On Passover, we check-in and remind ourselves that freedom is a tenuous privilege, whose absence remains poignantly present in our collective memory.
We are commanded to “commemorate… the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Meaning, we are to maintain a sense of humility about the freedom we newly call ours; to remain mindful that the ability to convene in Jewish spaces, to pray in Hebrew, to have access to lucrative jobs and even the ability to walk down our streets free from threat of violence is a privilege that was not always ours.
On Passover, we look inward at the struggles we have endured that have brought about our liberation; but we are also challenged to look outside of ourselves. Just as we take on the bitter burden of remembering of our own oppression, we are also challenged to stand with those who still seek justice – for we too know the plight of the oppressed.
At times, though, I find that it isn’t always easy to balance both of these obligations because the first forces us to acknowledge that the power that comes with liberation is not guaranteed. Remembering that we were once oppressed elicits the idea that freedom is fleeting, and demanding it for all people within our own society might mean rocking the boat.
Structural deficiencies in our society’s treatment of marginalized populations call us to speak up against injustice, especially at Passover. As a celebration of liberation, Passover invites Jews to take these eight days to speak to issues of civil rights breaches and infringements on freedoms of others in order to stand up against them and fulfill our duty of standing with those who have yet to be liberated from their chains – but that means facing Pharoah again.
Standing up to injustice means acknowledging that the very institutions that we benefit from are the same ones that have denied others their freedom. How are we to reconcile living in a nation that has offered us the opportunity to live liberated lives if others who live here cannot access the liberation we enjoy?
In our programs, our ritual, and our everyday conversations, Avodah Corps Members balance these ideas by expressing gratitude and acknowledging our privilege in our ability to access what we need to live with dignity, and we say Dayenu – Enough – to denying others the same experience.
We give thanks for the ability to live comfortably in neighborhoods we choose, and Dayenu to policies that deny those below certain income levels a livable home. We express gratitude for the ability to navigate the public school systems in order to access higher education, and Dayenu to the barriers that marginalized communities face in their path to a degree. We remember that the country in which we reside provided us refuge from persecution, and say Dayenu to racist rhetoric that influences our current response to refugee crises today. Thank you for our freedom – Dayenu to oppression.
Passover is a great time to remember that although we are free, we still seek liberation – because a liberated life does not only involve access to the things we need to survive. Real liberation will come when our community feels free to express in unified, unapologetic action what we were commanded to strive for. Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – “Justice, Justice Shall you pursue” is the duty that was bestowed upon us. We will know liberation in its truest sense when we acknowledge that with freedom comes power, and we can use this power to live out our duty towards justice.
Ilana Levinson is from Cherry Hill, NJ, attended The George Washington University, and is a Paralegal at the New York Legal Assistance Group in the General Legal Services Unit.