Passover: opportunity to redeem ourselves
The trees are in bloom, spring break has ended, final exams are on the horizon and the sound of crunching matzah fills my ears. These are the sure signs that Passover — the holiday of Jewish liberation from slavery to freedom — has come once again. This holiday, one of the three most important in Judaism, is well known in popular culture from films such as The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt and cannot be missed by anyone in a grocery store after March 1, when the matzah displays begin to appear. But what is less well known is the true meaning of the holiday, and how it is observed in the 21st century.
Passover is not about spring cleaning, eating big, tasteless crackers or even the Ten Plagues with which God smote the Egyptians. Passover is about liberation; in fact all Jews are required to relive the experience as if every year we are slaves and are freed on Passover. But this should inspire in us more than just awe of God's power; we should also grapple with ways in which we are still not free today. We should think about how we are slaves to money, to our jobs, to societal images of beauty. We should free ourselves of these shackles and embrace our liberation — appreciate our uniqueness and live our lives with true meaning. We should consider groups in the world that do not have equal rights, such as gays and lesbians who cannot marry in 46 states in this country. We should remember those who are literally enslaved — women and children who are trafficked for domestic labor or sexual exploitation. We should open our hearts to people who are oppressed today such as Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation or the Tibetan people who are denied self-determination by China.
As Jews eat matzah this year, paradoxically both the bread of poverty and the bread of freedom, let us think of the millions of children in the developing world who go hungry each day. Let us appreciate the freedoms that we have, but let Passover also be a wake-up call to speak up for the downtrodden — to advocate for those in distress. A traditional Jewish text, "The Ethics of Our Fathers," says that you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it. Passover is an opportunity to redeem ourselves, but it is also the perfect time to reach out in unity and compassion. No matter your religion or your beliefs, let us all see ourselves as free people anew, and let us join together in ending oppression and inequality hand-in-hand this year.
Avi Smolen is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science.