Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pesach and Social Justice

Pesach and Social Justice
Marc Friend

Each year, we sit around our Passover table, surrounded by family, reciting the story of our liberation from slavery. Yet, despite fulfilling the mitzvah of hearing the Exodus retold, a part of me always feels like I am not truly fulfilling the ideals of Passover. Do I, as we are commanded, see myself as though I personally escaped from slavery in Egypt? Surveying the Passover feast before me, reclining in my chair, how is it possible to feel like one who has been enslaved?
An answer can be found in a Hassidic story that tells of a wealthy man who invited his Rabbi over for dinner. The man brags that he eats only bread with salt and drinks only water. The horrified rabbi urges the wealthy man to eat rich, nutritious meals and to drink wine. Upon telling his disciples of the encounter, they are puzzled. The rabbi explains, "Not until he eats meat will he realize that the poor need bread. As long as he himself eats only bread, he will think the poor can live on stones."
Thankfully, though we are commanded to view ourselves as liberated slaves, most of us will never know firsthand the suffering experienced by our ancestors. Thus, we should not limit ourselves in our own celebrations this Passover, but use this as an opportunity to look around the world at those who are truly suffering today. In too many places around the world today, others suffer in ways similar to our ancestors. In Sudan, years of genocide have left millions displaced, families destroyed and a people in chaos. Even amidst hope stemming from the recent, largely peaceful referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence, the people of Darfur remain in jeopardy.

The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is also experiencing a humanitarian crisis. 45,000 people die each month in the violence between rebel groups fighting over the country’s natural resources. Sexual violence, including rape, is widespread. The crisis is perpetuated by the profits made in the mining and sale of valuable minerals, including gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin, which are largely sold to electronics companies and used to manufacture the phones, computers, and devices used in the U.S. and around the world.

International involvement in a peace process and in protecting the civilians in DRC is necessary. We need the United States and all world leaders to be lending diplomatic aid and calling for reinforcements for UN troops in the region and for an accreditation process for ‘Conflict Free Minerals.’

Passover reminds us that, like Moses, we can use our positions of privilege to help those in need of liberation. We can call on our leaders in Congress and the White House to ensure that the people of Sudan have a peaceful future ahead. And we can ensure that we do not facilitate violence in the Congo by calling for companies, the U.S., and the international world to create a certification for conflict free minerals in the electronics that we use every day.
The Hagaddah says, “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all those who are hungry come and eat with us. Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover.” This year, as we gather around the seder table, let us appreciate the freedoms and blessings we have. And let us recommit ourselves to doing all we can to ensure that the bread of affliction we eat for a night is not the meal of some for a lifetime.

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