Fighting a Modern Day Pharoah

Passover is a particularly charged holiday for our community, as we retell one of the greatest stories of workers collectively rising up against their oppressors.

Each year, our community recites the centuries-old Passover narrative at our Seder tables. The story of how more than 600,000 Jews fled from systemic slavery, torture, and even state-sanctioned murder. They escaped just steps ahead of an army of persecutors, and then undertook an exodus to the safety of their “Promised Land.” Our Passover haggadah represents one of the first accounts commemorating the refugee experience on a grand scale. This saga resonates today as never before, as our country now faces a government-driven assault on immigrant rights, civil liberties, health and welfare benefits, and worker protections.

Over the past months, we have witnessed legislative rollbacks and executive orders spearheaded by President Trump—truly a modern day Pharaoh—aimed at preventing refugees from accessing the safety of our shores. We have encountered blanket calls for mass deportations, cutbacks or the total elimination of workers’ rights to collectively bargain, health care cuts, the elimination of environmental protections, and broad attacks on human rights and civil liberties.

This month, as our Jewish community gathers with friends and families to share our traditional story of resistance and exodus, we must consider this reality as a charge for a renewed call to action.

In every Seder, there is a dramatic moment when we read a passage that demands each of us regard ourselves as if we had lived through and escaped bondage in Egypt. We are instructed to think about the ancient Egyptian separation of Jewish men from their families, the brutality of slavery, and harsh labor.

This moment possesses a remarkable power to drop 21st century dinner guests back into a darker, foreboding time.

Today, as we consider this history, we must apply those lessons to our new times. We must fight against the bondage and repression of our immigrant neighbors. Because many of them are living in fear with very real threats of arbitrary deportation, ICE raids forcibly separating their families, and grappling with life-threatening working conditions. People across America today are encountering hate speech, bigotry, and violence.

These are modern plagues that we must not ignore!

Let us all answer the Passover story’s historic call to action with modern day resistance. Let us commit to fight at every opportunity the oppression of refugees, immigrants, and those who white supremacists and alt right have labeled as “dangerous” due to their “other-ness.”

Let us all demand that our city and state elected officials pass laws to protect everyone: workers, retirees, students, dreamers and make our communities sanctuaries, safe havens for today’s refugees and immigrants.

And, let us all end each Seder by tasting the traditional afikoman (dessert matzah) and pledging to connect to our ancestors’ determination to rise up and fight back.

Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt. Today we commit to fight a 21st century authoritarian oppressor and keep the United States as a “promised land” for workers, for immigrants, and for everyone whose diversity make us a country of promise and opportunity for all.

This May 1st – May Day—Actions are being planned across the country in support of immigrant rights. We urge everyone to participate in a May Day event.