Passover is a holiday of remembrance, social justice, and freedom. We celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover once a year for eight days in the Spring. It’s a time when we celebrate our liberation from slavery in Egypt.
After experiencing, observing, and reflecting on the events of the past year and even the past few weeks, my partner and I have decided to make anti-racism the theme of our Passover Seder. In this article, I am going to invite everyone who is reading it with a call to action, but especially for those who are Jewish. Ultimately, it is your choice and it is up to you, and this is our invitation to you this year.
Why This Came Up For Me
I feel very angry, scared, and distressed. Hatred and hate crimes continue to happen to so many communities. It has gone on for too long, and I am craving guidance on how to change my behaviors to break this pattern. This reflection is a start.
As a Jew among other things, I still experience oppression. And as the spiritual teachings of Pema Chodron have taught me, I can let my experience of oppression crack my heart open to those who are also experiencing it, rather than let it shut me down or isolate from others in response. You can, too.
Antisemitism is still very prevalent. Instead of being excited to hang the mezuzah on our front door when we first moved into our new home this year, it was something we had to discuss and choose to do, knowing that there may be repercussions from identifying our home as Jewish to the public.
Although I understand the concepts intellectually, I’m frustrated and confused as to why antisemitism, oppression, and racism continue to exist.
A Unique Jewish Gift
One of the gifts of being Jewish is that I know oppression from my lineage and family history. While that may not initially sound like a gift because it has brought pain to me and my family, this pain I’ve inherited also helps me open my heart to better understand those who are going through oppression today.
I feel the pain of it living in my DNA and in my bones. If I step foot in a Holocaust memorial, my body immediately triggers feelings that are difficult for me to describe and I immediately break down in tears.
And being able to understand the oppression of others, I can see the ways that I don’t experience racism. In doing so, it allows me to support, to uplift, and to to join forces with those who are being oppressed.
The Cost Of Assimilation
I am mixed-race and white-passing, with parents who immigrated to the US in the ‘80s, each from different countries, and who immigrated for different reasons. Because of this identity, I have not always felt like I belong or fit in. Even so, I want to always acknowledge the privilege I still have because of my whiteness.
In my experience, in an effort to belong in the spaces where I felt unwelcome or silenced or, ultimately, not white enough, I succumbed to the pressure to assimilate in order to fit in. And that pressure came not just from my community, but from my family, and from myself.
For those of you who are Jewish, I invite you to reflect on the following that I’ve noticed from my own experience:
To relieve our own oppression, sometimes we side with the oppressor. We have sometimes chosen to assimilate in an effort to reduce discrimination against ourselves. It has served as a survival tactic and strategy to reduce the ways in which we are seen as outsiders.
That assimilation has come at a cost: reinforcing narratives of white superiority in exchange for temporary relief.
Where we have gained privileges, we can use those privileges to choose to stand with a marginalized community. This contributes to dismantling systems of oppression. And that is a great place to start.
Unmasking My Feelings
There is so much beauty in my Jewish culture, heritage, and ancestry. Yet, it comes along with so much pain. This has given me a sense of responsibility to understand the privileges I have been given and to stand with others who are experiencing oppression.
Just because we have benefited from white privileges doesn’t absolve us from the need to understand, empathize, and be an advocate for everyone else who is experiencing similar or worse oppressions than those we have experienced.
I see it as a responsibility to use my privileges and experiences of oppression and discrimination to let myself really feel the impact of those experiences. Avoiding the pain that my ancestors have gone through, the pain that we still go through, is no longer an option for me.
It’s time to honor and acknowledge the oppression that still lives on in our own lives in various identities and spheres that are carried with us. I want to use these feelings to help me understand the experiences of others in this country who are currently being oppressed. While I can’t fully understand what a person of color is going through, I can open my heart to our common humanity and take a stand.
A big part of our heritage as American Jews is standing with the civil rights movement.
This year, through The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, I watched a film called “Shared Legacies” along with an incredible panel that highlighted the beautiful Black-Jewish cooperation during the ‘60s Civil Rights era. I was blown away and filled with love to see how many Jewish leaders were supporting Dr. King’s movement and standing proudly on the front lines with our sisters and brothers.
This gave me so much pride. But it also left me confused. Confused as to why we didn’t see this show of support repeated during the BLM movement this past year, with the same strength that it was shown in the ‘60s. This will be a part of my exploration this year.
In response to the Atlanta shootings, The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education put together an Allyship in Action interactive training in partnership with the ADL Pacific Northwest and other organizations.
I feel proud to be a part of a community standing for unification and solidarity. I encourage you to seek out an allyship training.
Actions You Can Take This Passover
1. Ask yourselves and your family to reflect on your own identity, culture, privileges, and where you experience oppression.
2. There is a big difference between being an ally, a bystander, and an oppressor. You can start by discussing the differences between these three at your Passover seder.
3. Welcome the discomfort of these conversations. Stop and think about it. Let yourself feel what comes up for you.
4. To take it a step further, you can lead a guided meditation, opening your hearts to the oppression of others who are experiencing oppression and relate it to the experience of oppression in our history.
We see the oppression of people of color, and specifically the Black community in this country. We also see it in the recent shootings of Asian women and racial hatred of the Asian community.
My invitation to myself is to look into the ways that I, as an individual, am contributing to this. Ask this question as the fifth question this Passover to yourself and your family. Then ask: how can we use the privileges that we do have to be a voice for the communities who aren’t being heard?
What I’ve seen in my experience is that to overcome injustice, it takes a community coming together and speaking out. I invite you to be this voice and embrace it within the Passover story. The desire to take action and stand up for what is just is already within us.
Being an ally is a chosen action, one we need to continue to choose. I hope I keep getting better at being an ally and that I choose to be one more often than I have in the past.
To make the biggest impact, it’s up to us to reach our next generation. To raise them in these conversations, to think about their own identity, and to be an advocate for love, non-hate, and recognize the value in our own culture and the culture of others.
This year for our Passover seder, we have decided to call ourselves out, and I invite you to do the same. We are going to spend time identifying things we can do in our community, and ways we can lend our support.
We are not free until we are all free.