As Passover approaches we return to the annual rituals of preparation — for some folks that includes
changing out dishes, shopping for Passover items (checking local selections, contemplating trips to Toco
Hills), drawing up guest lists, preparing for our tribal Spring cleaning. Important as all those items are, I
feel compelled to consider the more difficult aspects of the season.
In the Friday night section of our new siddur there’s a powerful reading from Arthur Waskow about
leaving Egypt. He reminds us that the Hebrew word Mitzrayim מצרים is built around the root — tsar צר ,
which means ‘narrow.’ Geographically, the root points toward the fertile strips of land flanking the Nile.
Figuratively, the narrowness might apply to our own constricted state of mind. We are challenged to
consider the ways in which our thinking, our manner of interacting with the world is tight and inflexible.
This is the hard part.
An important current event
AIPAC’s current conference has gathered over eighteen thousand Jews who passionately support Israel.
National leaders on both sides of the political aisle address the audience. AIPAC is powerful, it is
inspirational, it is Front Page. The A-list speakers who address the gathering testifies to AIPAC’s political
prowess. While a dominant theme within the halls is the wall-to-wall bipartisan support for Israel, it is
also clear that things outside the auditorium are much more complex than that. Years of bare-knuckled
partisan politics have taken a serious toll. AIPAC cannot be faulted not for this sad reality. It’s where
An personal relic/memento
I once owned and wore a lapel pin with the motto We Are One. Great pin whose motto seems a quaint
relic, nostalgia for a bygone era. More than a few American Jews have peeled away from the old
consensus. They are not disloyal or hateful or unworthy. They don’t need to be shamed or lectured.
They’re exhausted from all the shouting and name-calling, and perhaps cynical. And over the years, the
politics (no need to mention names; there’s plenty to go around) has left its scars and divisions.
Late night run to Toco Hills included a bizarre encounter with a True Believer ultra-Orthodox woman
who felt compelled to play Jewish missionary (there is no other word for the harangue) – and it was
impossible to politely disengage from the spectacle. My better half (simply no other way to describe this
situation) is unfailingly polite to everyone, no exceptions. That includes people who do and say crazy
things. So while my head explodes, she quietly mends the world with being an unflappable mentsch.
Without cease, The True Believer delegitimized any Jew who doesn’t do things and see things the way
she does. While we’re looking at the price of kosher cheese, she’s preaching the Only Way, whether we
want to hear it or not. She couldn’t help herself; she simply channeled the messages from the Mother
Ship. It all felt very much like a combination of assault plus cultural anthropology moment – sad, funny,
obnoxious, surreal. And instructive. All apologies to my old lapel pin. We Are Not One. In an honest
moment it shouldn’t be tough to find a fellow Jew speak about our tribe in seriously pejorative terms —
not only to fellow Jews, but to others, as well. We’re stupid, misguided, naive, you name it. Regardless
of the banner you choose to fly, my poor old lapel pin knows that it has become a sad joke. Sure, we can
muster a smiling group shot for the press, go on the joint community mission if needed. Issue sweet
platitudes about our bonds to each other. Yes: I work hard to believe the words as I say them. And I
struggle. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest as well as insulting the intelligence of my fellow
Jews. I won’t do that.
Every morning and every evening our prayers include the Sh’ma — the three paragraphs which include
Hear O Israel, Love the Lord your God, the section about rewards and punishments connected to
following or abandoning the commandments, and the section which includes the fringes (tzitzit ציצית (
on the corners of our prayer shawls, and remembering that God took us out of Egypt. Every day, twice a
day – the same texts. Why are they so critical? For starters – we are called to bear witness to One God.
And we are reminded that our tribal mission statement should really guide us through each day. Last,
but not least – God took us out of Mitzrayim, but it is excruciatingly difficult for us to leave our
constricted narrow-minded ways. True: our foes never rest. They attack and demean and intimidate us
each and every day (see UN, for a helpful daily demonstration). But let’s leave our foes aside for a
moment. How do we treat each other? How do we portray each other to the larger community? I miss
my old lapel pin and its earnest aspirational motto. We Are One. Maybe it’s a prayer. If so, may it be so.
As Passover approaches, may we all resolve to march out of Egypt, every morning and every evening.
One mindful, compassionate, determined step at a time.