On Friday night, Jews around the world will sit down to celebrate the start of Passover, a weeklong holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, as recounted in the Bible in the book of Exodus.
Passover is marked in a variety of ways in the Jewish community, including with a seder. A seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, is a ritual feast that proceeds in a specific order and includes eating certain foods, reading, sharing stories and singing.
As Passover begins, Rabbi Barry H. Block of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas, shares a reflection on the intersections of our struggles for equality.
The Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses and Judaism’s foundational scripture, repeats one commandment 36 times: “Remember the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”
If we did not know it already, the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past October reminded us that Jews have been and often still are “strangers” -- not only in Egypt but in America, too. We identify with all who are deprived of rights, liberties and love because they are regarded as less than “real” America.
Therefore, American Jews have stood with Black Americans on the front lines of the struggle for racial justice from the 19th century to this day. We stand with immigrants and refugees, recalling that many of our own people were brutally murdered after being denied entry to the “Land of the Free.”
We have also pioneered LGBTQ+ rights among religious Americans. Reform Judaism, the branch of our faith to which Congregation B’nai Israel and I belong, started with tolerance, moved to acceptance and ultimately to celebration of the LGBTQ+ folks that are among us.
Our diverse congregations are often led by LGBTQ+ rabbis and congregational presidents, who live their truths out loud and proud. We live by non-discrimination policies in our own congregations and organizations, and we fight discrimination everywhere it is found. We are always seeking to learn new ways we can fully embrace all who would pass through our portals.
These days, a disproportionate percentage of those seeking conversion to Judaism are LGBTQ+ folks who, sadly, have felt rejected and unloved elsewhere. In our congregations, LGBTQ+ seekers find an embracing welcome at the temple, and all hear a message of God’s love.
When Jews sit down to our Passover tables on April 19, we shall recite an ancient injunction: “All should see themselves as though they personally had gone free from Egypt.”
Exodus did not merely happen once in the past to bring freedom to all any more than the Civil War or the Little Rock Nine ended racism. As important as Windsor and Obergefell were, they did not end hatred, violence or discrimination toward LGBTQ+ Americans.
My prayer this Passover is that my LGBTQ+ siblings of every faith and those with none none may find inspiration in the Exodus, faithfully affirming that the sea will part one day and we will all reach the Promised Land where we may all cry out in joy together.
This project and other public education work with faith leaders in HRC's Project One America states and HRC's Religion and Faith Program is made possible in part by the generous support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.