As most of you know, I am Jewish. Tonight as the sun sets, I will join with millions of Jews all over the world to commemorate Pesach (Passover), our festival of freedom.
In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is מצרים, Mitzrayim, from the root מצר, which can also be translated as narrow passes or places. This evening and tomorrow evening, at the altar of our family and communal tables, among the items we will reflect upon is: What are the "narrow places" from which we need to free ourselves today?
Whether Jewish or not, if you are at a Seder table this week, I invite you to reflect upon what does it mean to be Jewish? What do we truly know about our history and who were/are the Jews of the Bible? And, on what do we base our images of our ancestors?
I invite the conversation because I see Jewish individuals and organizations confronting racism and discrimination in the United States and around the world AND less confronting of racism and discrimination within our synagogues and institutions. Yes, there are exceptions in each movement when it comes to synagogues. However, the need to raise the notion of exceptions actually proves the rule.
Our houses of worship ought to be a safe space for all people. I ought to be able to go to pray or for programming free of questioning looks and having people ask me if I converted within five minutes of being introduced to me. Fortunately, in the eight months of being part of the Adas Israel community, I have only had instance of the funny look and inappropriate question. That is actually the longest I have been in a Jewish worship community and NOT experienced any of a number of inappropriate behaviors. Unfortunately, I am not the exception. Many Jews who do not meet a narrow narrative of who is a Jew face challenges to their presence in Jewish spaces. Also unfortunate is the additional scrutiny some receive when undergoing conversion.
To quote my friend Mario Cooper, "Discrimination is discrimination and pain is pain." I do not believe in a hierarchy of pain. Yet, discrimination within ones family - be it of blood, marriage or spirit - cuts deeper, much the same way that sexual assault within the family - be it blood, military or spirit - cuts deeper. After all, the family ought to be the place where we are safest. In terms of our spiritual home, it ought to be the place where we are nourished and cherished and replenished. Yet, we are not always safe in our families for many reasons.
In our Jewish spiritual homes and institutions, many Jews have forgotten "the mixed multitude" from which we sprung. Many Jews have accepted without examination the White Euro-centric view of how the world came into being even as they hold that viewpoint accountable for victimizing Jewish people.
There are no simple solutions to addressing unintentional or intentional bigotry. Still, I invite you this Passover to examine the Pharaoh - the פ-רעה (pi-rah) the evil mouth - that may be holding your heart captive when you see someone who does not look as you expect. I invite you to do an appreciative inquiry into your thoughts and views of who is Jewish, or what makes one Jewish, and uncover the source of your construction. I invite you to free your Jewish heart/mind and soul from the narrow constructs of what you think it means to be a Jew so that you may discover what it means to live Jewishly.
There are many public and personal incidences that led to this writing, and this is just the beginning of the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you and sharing more of my thoughts about diversity within our family. After all, the Jewish world is my home, and if I am not welcome, who can be?
(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013