Countdown to Passover (4)

As I typed weeks ago, the rabbis encouraged us to spend the month between Purim and Passover preparing for Passover. I don’t need to tell you how much life has changed in this one month. In my weekly blogs regarding Passover preparations I have focused on the how. How do we set the table? How do Jews around the world celebrate the Seders differently? And how can we enhance our Seders this year? For this fourth and last blog before Passover I would like to focus on the why. Why celebrate Passover this year?
For me, the answer comes from returning to the first story, the Biblical story, the reason we celebrate Passover to start with. There is a huge debate as to when the Passover story really began. The debate centers on what is the defining point without which there would be no story, no holiday, no Seder, no reenactment of a people transforming their life from slavery to freedom over and over again throughout the centuries. Did the Passover story begin when the Pharaoh forgot Joseph or when he felt threatened by the growing Israelite population in his country? Did it begin when the Israelites cried out for help 400 years later or when the midwives taught the world what civil disobedience is? Did the Passover story begin when Yocheved (Moses’ birth mother) took history in her own hands trying to save her son or when Miriam approached Bitiyah (Moses’ adopted mother) making a match between the two mothers? Did it begin when Moses, a man of privilege, saw an abuse of power and stepped in to stop the beatings of an Israelite slave or the abuse of Zipporah (his future wife) while drawing water for her herd? Did it begin when Jethro took in this immigrant to his land, or when Jethro gave Moses a job and a place in their community? Did it begin when a bush burned without burning or when Moses stopped long enough to hear Gd’s voice? Does the Passover story begin when Moses returned to Egypt or when Aaron agreed to help him communicate with the Pharaoh? Does it begin when Gd performed the miracles in the form of the 10 plagues or the splitting of the sea of reeds? Does the Passover story begin when the Israelites decided to stop living as slaves and cross the sea of reeds, or when Egyptians chose to join them at the crossing, joining these two communities’ fates together forever?
Without any one of these steps, one could argue there would be no story. There would have been no role model of how to liberate oneself.
So many cultures, religions, people and Jews have seen themselves in this story. The Puritans seeking religious freedom, African Americans seeking liberation from slavery, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto seeking to overthrow the Nazis. On a personal level there have been substance abusers determined to liberate themselves from their addictions, abused women forging a new life away from their abusers, members of the GLBTQ community seeking institutional freedom, feminists fighting for equal rights, and the list really does go on. 
This year many of us will be praying for liberation from the coronavirus, if not a cure, a life-affirming treatment, and a vaccination so that we never have to fear for our lives from this virus again. Almost every Haggadah I have ever read begins demanding that we acknowledge that we too were slaves in the land of Egypt. In doing so we know that none of our Egypt’s would be exactly the same and our liberations would need to be variations of the theme: The belief that life can change, that it is in our power to change, and now is the best time to begin, unites all slaves hoping for a chance to live freely.
In 2017, CJC voted to support immigrant rights acknowledging that our community only lives here freely today because our ancestors arrived at its borders (some legally and some illegally) within the last 150 years. The American Jewish community might be reminded periodically (as we are today from the alt-right) that we are not DAR (Daughters of the Revolution); we are, for the most part, a success story. We are one of the wealthiest, best educated, integrated, Jewish communities that have ever existed throughout time and currently in the world. As a result, there are two questions that arise for us this year: One is what are the mitzrayims (narrow places) that still exist in our lives that we are battling and two, who are today’s enslaved people who need our help.
This past fall CJC helped form the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, a group of almost 15 organizations fighting to end Howard County’s contract with ICE. If you go to our Facebook page,, (you do not need Facebook to see it) you can receive more information as to why it is so important to end this contract. Suffice it to say, there are many people whose only crime is that they entered this country illegally just like two of my four grandparents. Is the desire to live freely, the willingness to pay taxes, the hope your children will have a better life reason enough to be locked up in the Howard County Jessup Detention Center? Should we, citizens of Howard County, be making money off their misfortune?
Why celebrate Passover? Why remind us every single year that we were once slaves? So that we will never stop working for a world free of slavery. For if one of us is a slave, we all are slaves.
This Passover take a few minutes and help us help detainees in our detention center. Here are four immediate things you can do:
1)      Please sign the CASA petition:  This petition asks County Executive Calvin Ball to release non-violent offenders from the detention center and to end the contract with ICE.
2)      In addition, take a few minutes and write an email to either your council member, if you live in Howard County or to Dr. Ball, if you live outside the county, demanding that all nonviolent detainees be released now. Here is only one sample letter; please feel free to write your own.
Dear County Council Member
  • Following the recommendations of national public health authorities, you should release inmates and detained immigrants with low-level non-violent offenses from the Jessup Jail to reduce the risk of infection. We need to take every possible measure to contain the epidemic and protect inmates, correctional officers, and their families.
  • Now is the time to end the IGSA with ICE. Detention tears families apart. Especially now, families need help from breadwinners to buy food and pay rent.
  • Howard County’s contract with ICE makes us complicit in a corrupt and racist system. The current immigration policies are cruel and unfair with many human rights violations are rampant. State and local cooperation facilitates ICE’s rapid detention expansion.
  • We have an obligation to our foreign-born friends and neighbors in Howard County to work against cruel and unjust policies and practices. Howard County should be in the forefront for social justice, not in the rear. 
  • While incarcerated, asylum seekers cannot easily find or pay for competent legal representation. Many who have a legal case to stay in the US are deported because they cannot get help from lawyers.
  • Howard County becomes less safe and less welcoming when it decreases immigrants’ trust in local government and police. Immigrants in this county-documented and undocumented – work and pay state and federal taxes. Yet many live in fear of detention and deportation. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their homes and in public and to have the full protection of law.
  • Howard County can generate the contract’s income in other ways more consistent with our values.
3)      Send your email and a request to five other people to do the same.
4)       Call Governor Hogan’s office and leave a voicemail, including your name, and ask Hogan to listen to Public Health experts and take immediate steps to release non-violent offenders, inmates with serious health conditions, and inmates close to their parole dates. Call 410-974-3901
We were once slaves in the land of Egypt and we were freed because a community of people united together to do their part. Without any one of them, our slavery might have dragged on for decades, or centuries, or longer. What is our part to play and are we willing to play it?