How do we teach our children the story of Passover when there are so many atrocities? How can we play with plague puppets and plastic toys when reciting curses that befell other people? In what world is it ever okay for a divine emissary to slay children?
These are some of the questions I was asked while facilitating a conversation for interfaith parents while their children learned in a small and vibrant Jewish religious school one room over. They struggled with deep fear over the Passover narrative and left the question lingering for me about the role of victim in our communal narrative.
In a pinnacle moment of the Passover story, the angel of death passes over the Jewish homes and spares our children’s lives. Suddenly, we are not the victims of the newest tragedy – the Egyptians are. Instantaneously we transform from being the helpless people of the story to the lucky ones, with God on our side.
Yet the pain we feel from everything that happened previously doesn’t vanish, so we are reluctant to recognize this shift from destitute to saved. We continue to think about our own slavery experience instead of mourning with and for our Egyptian neighbors.
It’s true, we lessen our joy by diminishing our cups of wine and we have rabbinic commentaries telling us all the people of the world are God’s children. Yet while expressing gratitude over making it through every step of the story we praise events that caused others pain.
We cannot let go of our narrative of being the downtrodden – even though in that moment – that morning – there were others far worse off.
This reluctance to recognize our blessings and cling to the narrative of victimization remains an enduring struggle for the Jewish community.
While others may see us as successful, lucky and blessed, we continue to see ourselves through eyes of fear.
Though we have legitimate gripes about past wrong doings and potential future pain, a failure to see ourselves as the lucky ones in the story of life becomes a failure to see those who truly are victims of our times and in need of our help. If we cannot see the other who needs our voice and support than we squander the privilege we have and do a true disservice to our ancestral narrative.
I’m not saying we don’t have the right to feel broken by life’s hard moments. As individuals and as a community we sometimes endure great pain. All I’m saying is that remembering our experiences of pain shouldn’t prevent us from seeing the pain of others or prevent us from recognizing the blessings we do have.
This is the reason vocal liberal millennials turn a blind eye to our claims of anti-Semitism while embracing flagrantly anti-Zionist behaviors that fill our society under the guise of intersectionality. It brings me great frustration, but I’ve come to see that until we acknowledge the ways in which we are the lucky ones and others are the trampled we will not only fail to find partners for our cause but others will prefer that we not engage in theirs.
Let me be clear – I do not believe there is anything wrong with having privilege, power, and promise. However, there is something wrong when memories of our times without these strengths lead us to believe we are forevermore without agency. That is the exact opposite of why we retell this narrative.
Our Torah reminds us over and over again of our experience of slavery, not to spread fears of anti-Semitism but rather to encourage we seek justice for all. So even though there are moments in the Passover story when we feel God is acting on our behalf at the expense of others, we will not teach our children that this is easy, silly, or just. We will sit with discomfort and acknowledge that we care about all people on this earth, not simply our own.
Rabbi Samantha Kahn serves Interfaithfamily in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs at RabbiKahn.com