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It’s a hot topic these days, for good reason. There’s the shooting at the shul in Squirrel Hill, of course.
There’s the anti Semitic remarks offered in the halls of Congress. There are the reckless and cynical charges portraying the Democratic Party as anti Jewish. Uncomfortable old truths — lawmakers, celebrities, pundits across the political spectrum have said lots of things that are deeply hurtful to Jews; as for the motives behind those utterances — not always obvious. Ignorance, political calculation, good old-fashioned bigotry; hard to say.
When we use the term anti Semitism we usually have Jews in mind. But as we’re well aware, many Muslims are Semites, and when we pay serious attention (and we should) we’ll notice that American Muslims are being lashed fiercely with a special brand of anti-Semitism especially tailored to slam them. Again — a range of motives. Our nation (not unique this regard) has a long history of prejudices against folks deemed to be outsiders. We know. Been there, done that.
Passover quickly approaches. In light of the Haggadah’s discussion of oppression visited upon our ancestors — is it okay for Jews to care deeply about one flavor of bigotry (the hateful garbage that is dumped upon our tribe, sometimes in crude terms, other times on coded language) while averting our gaze from other flavors of hatred — the ugly words and violent gestures directed toward other groups deemed to be dirty or dangerous or threatening to the moral fabric or just plain outsiders?
This is not a new question. Part of the genius of the Haggadah is about the tension between the parochial and the universal. Our tradition challenges us by embracing both. The Torah’s regulations about the Paschal meal definitely draw a line between included family and excluded alien .) בן נכר (And yet, we say: All who hunger, let them come and eat. The language of redemption speaks to oppressed people everywhere across the centuries. Contemporary seders and Haggadot explicitly reach beyond our own tribe. That’s one more big reason I’m proud to be Jewish.
MLK was killed shortly before he could attend the seder of his friend and colleague, Rabbi Heschel. In trying to offer an answer to the question I posed earlier I’ll go back to one of his teachings: as long as some of us remain in bondage, none of us are truly free. As we say at our seder: today we are still enslaved; tomorrow may we be free – . השתא עבדי לשנה הבאה בני חורין If we take these words seriously, then we must not normalize or accept the marginalizing of others. We are supposed to know better.
Our own liberation depends on it.