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.

Liberation from Narrowness

For the first time in many years, my family is not hosting Passover seder, because we are blessed by friends who have invited us into their homes. Since I am not leading a seder this year, I will share some thoughts about Passover’s meaning for personal liberation with my readers.

I have long viewed Passover’s annually re-telling the story of the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt as the critical link which has bound the Jewish people together for well over 2000 years despite repeated attempts to annihilate us. These annual reminders that we were once slaves and now we are free serve us well by helping us cherish our hard fought freedoms and recall that they can be taken away at any time.

Liberation is both personal and communal and in order to free oneself, one must understand the nature of the enslavement one experiences. The Passover story starts in Egypt. As one author put it,

In Hebrew, Egypt is called Mitzrayim. According to the text on Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, the name is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits” (mi, “from,” tzar, “narrow” or “tight”). When God took us out of Mitzrayim, He extricated us from the place of constricted opportunities, tight control, and narrow-mindedness, where movement was severely limited.

When my wife and I host a seder, I usually start by asking all of our guests to describe something which enslaves them, as well as their wishes for personal freedom in the coming year. Many guests have shared their challenges at work and school, with their health, and sometimes with society at large. This exercise often allows my friends and family to share sincere desires for how they will escape their personal Mitzrayim (narrow straits) in the coming year. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is certainly impossible to gain personal freedom without identifying the personal or communal tight controls which enslave us.

As we enter this Passover season, my deepest wish is for disenfranchised people all over the world, who suffer from constricted opportunities, to recognize that the possibility for change is always present, and to remain ready for empowerment at both the personal and communal level, as one never knows when genuine cultural change will happen. Indeed, as little as one generation ago, the words gay marriage were rarely spoken and certainly not seriously contemplated as possible. Now, the concept is so culturally accepted that those who vilify it find themselves in the minority.

For me, that means that I appreciate each and every opportunity I have to help others gain their personal freedom by helping them achieve their civil rights to the fullest extent possible. While I know that my efforts are only one small part of the liberation struggle, I treasure the ongoing opportunity to play that role.

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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.