Passover begins March 30th. It recalls the time, under Moses’ leadership with divine intervention, that the Jewish people got out of Egypt.
Today, the strangers in our midst, the Dreamers, are captive, too, but in a different way. They are not trying to get out. They say to America, ‘Let our people stay.’
The Passover story is about breaking the bonds of slavery to experience freedom on all levels, including religious freedom.
Will the Dreamers, who were brought here, albeit illegally, and who grew up in America and know only American culture and values, experience a similar sort of freedom? Or will their hopes fall on deaf ears when they say to this nation of immigrants, "we belong here and this is our country, too?"
When Jewish families tell the story of the Exodus at the Seder meal, the narrative always leads back to family stories about immigration to this country. Today’s dreamers want to follow a process that meets the legal requirements of immigration, too. They are likely are praying for God to usher them out of their servitude in a kingdom of fear and deliver them to the Promised Land which is America.
The question is whether there is enough strength, compassion, and wisdom in our elected leaders, as well as goodwill in our citizenry, to find a solution - one that is legal and fair - to solve this humanitarian problem.
One of the most important Passover rituals is the biblical injunction to eat unleavened bread, which the Torah calls "matzah" in Hebrew. The book of Exodus says that the Israelites baked unleavened cakes because there was no time to let it rise as they fled Egypt. Throughout the eight days of Passover, Jewish law says that we must not eat any unleavened product. The idea is to feel and remember that we, too, went out of Egypt.
Today, our neighbors, classmates and co-workers live in fear, experience hate and know what it means to live on the run. They know that they or their parents could disappear at any minute. They, too, like the Jews of old, must pray that one day their bondage of fear will end. The Dreamers' situation is similar to that of the Israelites, when Pharaoh instilled the fear in his country's citizens that the Israelites had suddenly become dangerous, that they would grow and become a threat to ancient Egypt. Fear is the greatest weapon one can use to demonize another population.
Jewish people gather around the Seder table and tell the ancient story of slavery that led to liberation. Their goal then was not to overtake Pharaoh or rule Egypt, but to simply worship God freely. The Dreamers are not so different because they don’t want to overrun America. They want to share the same privileges and responsibilities as any citizen and to live peacefully like all good Americans.
After the order of the Seder narrative meal is completed, the last words of the ritual of prayers are recited when we sing, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” That statement has reflected for thousands of years the dreamers of the Jewish people that one day they, too, would return to the Promised Land. Israel represents the modern day fulfillment of the ancient promise by God.
" Next Year in Jerusalem" has a similar meaning for the Dreamers in America. If they were at my Passover Seder table, they might read that maxim and say, ‘Jerusalem is America for us. Maybe next year we, too, will be free to live in our Promised Land."
I pray that they will not have to wait as long as we did for their dreams to come true.