Liberation through Questioning

As Passover approaches, and Jews all over the world gather around the seder table for a festive meal and to retell the story of liberation from their slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, my wife and I will celebrate tonight in the absence of our son, for the first time since he was born over 19 years ago, as he is going to school in Israel and celebrating with his gracious cousins Rafi and Rachael in Jerusalem as I write this.

As Josh was traveling from Haifa to Jerusalem, he posed many questions about liberation given that he lives with two Palestinian students from East Jerusalem, and part of his journey to Jerusalem travels alongside the huge separation barrier dividing Israelis and Palestinians. His questions follow the long Jewish tradition which starts out the Seder with the youngest child asking questions which start:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

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The rest of the Seder seeks to answer those questions. Yet, we ask the question each year because we understand that freedom is fragile and none of us are fully liberated. Some of us have more freedom than others. Some of us are oppressed by others and some of us oppress ourselves. So, Passover provides a time and a structure for asking ourselves important questions about how to liberate ourselves, knowing that we never achieve complete freedom, and that others need our help to liberate themselves from oppression.

My son’s questions included challenging questions about a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. They included:

  • What would happen if a state was created right now and they had the law of return?
  • Where would the line be drawn?
  • Would Israel take down the wall that infringes on their territory?
  • Would the Palestinians?
  • Would Israel build another wall on the actual Green Line?
  • Would Israel allow them enough air waves to actually have smartphones and data?
  • Would Israel let them in?
  • Would Israel let them use their ports?
  • Would settlers become Palestinians or permanent residents?
  • Are we even talking about Gaza?

When I responded that Israelis and Palestinians can answer all these questions if they choose to engage in a peaceful resolution of their dispute, but nobody should be naive and believe that everything will be perfect upon the signing of a treaty that creates a Palestinian state. So, we will need to continue to work to make our world a better place, he had more questions:

  • What does “better” mean?
  • Does it also mean being a Jewish state with a controlled minority, even if it is in Israel proper?

Having just returned from the J Street National Assembly, I suggested that he examine J Street’s policy positions which answers most of these questions.

But then, he asked:

What does having a liberating Pesach (Passover) mean?

To that excellent question, I replied:

Sometimes it is little things like buying a homeless woman a smoothie & picking up the garbage in the park every morning. Other times it means fighting for peace & justice. It can’t happen all at once and frankly, will always need to be worked on because people are imperfect and too many of them want to put down others.

Liberation is a process. It starts with the questions. The answers are both large and small. The work of liberation is continuous.

May everyone have a liberating Passover.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Celebrating Freedom Builds Community

Once again, this year’s Passover celebration of freedom reminded me how important this holiday is to the survival of the Jewish people for over 2000 years, despite many travails. The Torah commands the Jewish people to tell the story of their liberation from slavery to freedom every year.  While Jewish practice has varied over time, the core insistence on teaching children the value of freedom and remembering that we were once slaves is a reminder that freedom is precious and it takes work as a community both to obtain and to retain our freedom.

As usual, we gathered for a large seder in our home, with friends and family from the 3 Abrahamic religions, Jewish, Christian & Muslim, to re-tell the story.  While the seder, (literally meaning “order”) prescribes 14 set elements, from the 1st of 4 blessings over glasses of wine, to the conclusion hours later, the survival of the Jewish people has also allowed families to incorporate their own traditions into their seders.

In our home, when we introduce ourselves to each other as we gather at the table, we share with each other our thoughts about both the freedom we are currently appreciating as well as the freedom we are still seeking, because the truth is that all of us enjoy some freedom, but none of us enjoy complete freedom.  In doing so, we build community by getting to know each other a little better. In addition, this practice causes each of us to step back from our busy lives to focus on freedom obtained, and freedom sought.

This year, our seder gathering included 23 people, ranging from a Turkish Muslim baby not quite one year old, to an 87 year old Moroccan Jew who described his wandering from nation to nation, including France, Israel and Norway, eventually arriving in the United States, and always seeking freedom.  Some shared very personal freedoms sought & obtained.  Others shared global concerns for oppressed people who struggle mightily to obtain freedom in dire circumstances.  All sentiments were valued because in sharing freedoms sought and freedoms obtained, we were continuing a tradition that builds and strengthens a community that cherishes freedom and understands how fragile it is.

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Each year, as Jews the world over celebrate their Exodus from enslavement in Egypt thousands of years ago, I wonder whether others who have suffered from slavery could benefit from such a practice.  This is one reason why we always invite non-Jews to our seder, in order to broaden the celebration of freedom.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated so eloquently,

Liberation is costly.  Even after the Lord had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they had to travel through the desert.  They had to bear the responsibilities and difficulties of freedom.  There was starvation and thirst and they kept complaining.  Many of them preferred the days of bondage.

We must remember that liberation is costly.  It needs unity.  We must hold hands and refuse to be divided.  We must be ready.  Some of us will not see the day of our liberation physically.  But those people will have contributed to the struggle.  Let us be united, let us be filled with hope.  Let us be those who respect one another.

Some struggle for freedom alone, but Passover reminds us that struggling for freedom together builds community and expands freedom for many.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.