As the ten biblical plagues were recited during my Passover Seder this past week, I was thinking not only of the plagues that afflicted Egypt but also of the modern plagues that affect our world today–and what we can collectively do to eliminate the plague of malaria from our world. Each year, an estimated 219 million people are infected with malaria, causing approximately 600,000 deaths. Children under the age of five and pregnant women are often the most susceptible to succumbing to malaria, a completely preventable disease. Read more…
By Rabbi Karyn Kedar
This is the first in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer and the issue of immigration.
Slavery. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is universal and it is epic and it is an archetype that spans across the centuries. It is a deeply personal story. The Children of Israel stand at the edge of the wilderness and beckon us to become a part of a mixed multitude marching toward freedom. Their march, their courage and their doubt, touch our well-protected self, which tugs and pokes around our soul.
– Excerpt from Omer: A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar
Earth Day is just around the corner! What will you do this year to protect our planet?
Join the RAC in commemorating Earth Day with an online information session on how to successfully create a green “culture” in your congregation. How do we make our environmental efforts an integral part of the culture of our congregational communities? How do we align our actions with our Jewish beliefs of environmental stewardship? Our synagogues have the potential to model environmental behavior and inspire individual action and advocacy. Join expert rabbis and staff from the RAC in discussing how our congregations can foster a “culture” of environmentalism that goes beyond independent greening initiatives.
My first marathon ever — 2003 in New York City — did not go according to plan. On the positive side, I would never have guessed that P. Diddy would be running the same marathon and at the same pace for much of it, providing an entertaining entourage to distract me from my exhaustion. On the negative side, my name, which I had taped to my tank top so the crowds could give me much-needed encouragement, quickly peeled off, and I was anonymous in the crowd. My plan had been to run that last mile to the mantra “you can do anything” or “you are power,” but instead, my legs barely moving and my husband and close friend no longer by my side, I chanted dejectedly to myself: “Never again, never again.” Read more…
by Rabbis Wendi Geffen, Elana Perry, and Erica Asch
At our Passover Seder tables, we internalize the heart of the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We remember that no one is truly free when others are oppressed.
On Pesach’s second day, we begin to count the Omer every day for 7 weeks. The rabbis of the Talmud contextualized Sephirat haOmer as the communal spiritual re-enactment of our ancestors’ journeying from Egypt to Sinai. The Kabbalists understood the Omer as an opportunity to refine and perfect our own lives through the journey of our souls. At its heart, the Omer is a time of uncertainty, of living “in-between.” When the Omer concludes on the 50th day, Shavuot, we leave our uncertainty behind as we wholeheartedly embrace the Torah and ready ourselves to step into the future with openness and determination.
That precious freedom associated with Sinai reminds us that our work is far from complete, for on Shavuot we are reminded that there are “strangers” in our midst who are still oppressed, still waiting to be embraced by a welcoming community. When we read the story of Ruth, we empathize with the “stranger” among us. Who is “Ruth” in our society today? She is the undocumented immigrant seeking both refuge and opportunity in our country. The Biblical Ruth calls upon us to shine light onto the shadowed lives of the undocumented immigrants among us, and the shattered dreams of the thousands of families torn apart by deportation. When we stand to receive the Torah, we stand with Ruth, and we accept our obligation to act.
Each Thursday of the Omer, beginning April 17, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) will post a drash written by a colleague offering insights on the Omer and the issue of immigration. (Be sure to sign up for our email updates here!) We will renew our efforts to bring immigration reform back to the forefront of American consciousness.
ROR will also be sending out a Shavuot text study designed to be taught in congregations and communities and a liturgical supplement to be included in Shavuot services. We invite you to read them, reflect on them, and share them with your community as we experience this sacred liminal time together.
This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern day strangers who live among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.
Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) is a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations. Learn more about their powerful grassroots work for immigration reform – and join the campaign ahead – at rac.org/ror.
Passover is holiday full of symbolism. We eat the bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. We dip parsley in saltwater to recall the tears of our ancestors in Egypt. The charoset is meant to resemble the mortar the Israelites were forced to use while building structures for Pharaoh and their Egyptian oppressors. These traditional symbols have paved the way for contemporary symbolism, allowing modern Jews to use the Seder plate as a place for social or political expression.
In recent years, placing an orange on a Seder plate has become a statement with various interpretations. Introduced by Jewish feminist and scholar, Susannah Heschel, the orange has come to represent the inclusion of women and LGBT people in the Jewish tradition. In general, the orange is meant to symbolize the rejection of the notion that “a woman, [gay person or other historically marginalized person] belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate.”
This year, I invite you to include another item on your Seder plate, a symbol of food justice. Read more…
Moses is never mentioned in the Passover Haggadah. At first glance, it’s a little strange that Moses’s name or involvement in the Exodus is never discussed in the Passover Haggadah. I was taught that there is no mention of Moses for two reasons: (1) Because at our Seder, we want to remember the miracles performed by God and that God was ultimately responsible for our redemption and; (2) Because we are supposed to imagine ourselves as having gone out of Egypt and using Moses’ name places the Exodus at a certain point in history. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting omission to think about as we prepare for Passover. Read more…
Moses. Aaron. Pharaoh. Our ancestors. Elijah. Family. Friends. These are the people we are most likely to think about as we sit down to our Passover Seder in the coming days. Passover lends itself so well to many of the critical social justice issues of today, from religious freedom, to immigration and to human trafficking, to the environment and civil rights. But what about equality for half of the world’s population? Are we also thinking of Miriam – and women’s equality – as well?
Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister, plays a key role in the Passover story. Miriam watches over baby Moses as he floats down the Nile to Pharaoh’s daughter in the basket, leads the Jewish people in song after crossing the Red Sea, and provides for the Jewish people in their wandering with her well.