Passover is sweeter when we celebrate our freedoms

Passover Greetings for 5781! And also a very happy Easter to my friends and loved ones celebrating that holiday. The Spring Equinox* is nothing to sneeze at, either, except, maybe, for the allergies, a little.

May spring offer hope, renewal, and joyous freedom to everyone reading this post.

You can gauge the season in my home by the drift of matzah crumbs across the kitchen floor. Note to those new to a cracker-based diet: no, it is never a wise idea to eat matzah without a plate for catching the inevitable crumbs. Don’t let my husband or children tell you otherwise!Passover Pesach matzah

In 2021, I found myself rueful that yet another פֶסַח Pesach would be celebrated without guests or even family. Due to necessary medical appointments, we were socially if not spiritually distanced even from my in-laws who live downstairs within our home as this holiday commenced.

Yet, still, we had so much for which to be grateful.

Chief among all blessings, the festival of liberation from bondage reminds me annually of my husband’s exodus from an oppressive regime which persecuted his family for its Jewish heritage. Thank God for a United States of America welcoming refugees! My husband, his beloved parents, and his grandmother z”l all benefited from that largess.

Anyone familiar with DH’s academic record knows how the USA benefits, in turn, from his ground-breaking scholarship in—and beyond—the natural sciences. Certainly, IMHO, the likelihood of international fame ought not be a prerequisite for offering refuge to “your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”** And yet, time and again, immigrants such as my husband prove their worth far beyond such beleaguered beginnings.

Cover of Richard Codor's Joyous Haggadah book

I hope that not a day goes by when I do not thank God for the blessing of my husband’s freedom, but I thank Passover for the fact that a year never could. The Haggadah—the story of Passover related by Jews at a סֵדֶר seder or order of telling—includes the answer, “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt” to the question asked by a child who can’t even formulate a question about what the holiday means.

“It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”

I must admit to not being particularly literal in my general understanding of the Torah. I believe God gave us a legacy of poetry, using metaphor to offer millennia’s worth of new understandings of the same old words, letting scripture rise to the occasion of ever-evolving human capacity.

And yet… in this case, I take scripture fairly literally. It is, frankly, because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt that everything else in my life carries so many of its multitudes of meaning.

That Egypt is a metaphor, yes. But, from where I sit, “Egypt” is a place I was, yet here I am, free.

Compared with 2020, I gave thanks in 2021 for plenty of capacity at the stores to get groceries delivered, and no shortages of either mundane or ritual items we needed for our seder.

At this time of year, in addition to counting my blessings, I am inclined to count my freedoms. The liturgy of the season Deuteronomy (26:5–8) includes the phrase:

God took us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:1-5 on the page

Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:5-8 on the pageUnderstanding the mighty/strong hand tends to be trivial. God is mighty; God is great. Translation doesn’t dilute this understanding much, in my experience.

The outstretched arm is, perhaps, less obvious, but sometimes more compelling, at least, to me.

You can find Jewish scholarship on the topic of the strong hand and outstretched arm all over the internet. But here’s what that extended arm means to me.

The outstretched arm reminds me of my obligation—always!— to reach out to the wider world. I believe I must use my personal freedom as a tool to work toward the liberation of others. At my seder, I can’t help but reflect upon current events. This year, that included paying attention to the illegal coup taking place in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

The New York Times reports that:

“Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. ”

When that didn’t work, the military junta that staged the coup in Myanmar—overthrowing the legitimate, democratically elected government—arrested more than 50 journalists for continuing to report the truth.

I wish I could do more than thumb my nose at these tyrants by defying their chosen vocabulary. This is the small strength of my individual hand, however, so that’s the little bit of power I will wield today.

Page view from Haggadah describing The Simple Child

After mentioning this outrage against human dignity, I’m also inspired to consider the question: Which child of the Passover seder am I aping, as I ask?

The Pesach Haggadah prompts us to answer questions about our liberation from slavery in Egypt for the benefit of four children: the one who is wise, a wicked child, a simple son, and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask what s/he needs to know.

Modernity offers most of us instant connections across the globe, yet few of us seem blessed with the wisdom to use what should probably be considered a superpower to its utmost. Staring at the atrocities in Myanmar, I wonder if I’m the child who can’t even formulate a sensible question.

Who should determine the form of government of any nation? Am I remiss in assuming the majority’s opinion offers the critical vote?

What is our obligation, as outsiders, to support those agitating and risking their lives in hopes of bringing democracy to a nation? Is it enough when I simply simply ponder their fate?

When are we called upon to act as opposed to bearing witness? How many civilians must a military coup murder before free people of the world feel obligated to take action?

Where should I draw the line between my own liberation and that of another oppressed person?

Why have I been blessed with so much more freedom than the people of Myanmar?

How can I make the world better given my limited strength and resources?

In this spring of optimism across the developed world as a pandemic God willing wanes, I hope those of us living in the bosom of privilege, safety, and freedom from want can provide some sort of meaningful support for those in  Myanmar and elsewhere living beneath a cloak of oppression.

* With a special nod to the pagan holiday of Ostara, aka Eostre, from which Christian Easter stole borrowed what it needed to convert the masses. Please note, friend Christians, that I don’t think Jesus himself is in any way incriminated in this wholesale holiday obfuscation. The social history is pretty fascinating, however, to a nerd like myself.

Hebrew acronym for zikhronah livrakha, meaning “May her memory be a blessing.” Read more about this Jewish acronym at My Jewish Learning dot com.

** Excerpted from Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, as etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Here’s one rabbi’s thought on understanding how translation affects a well known, widely “understood” passage such as the one I’ve quoted here.

Treason in the U.S. Senate & rioters storming the Capitol

Be aware of the following feckless U.S. Senators:

  • Ted Cruz (R-Texas),
  • Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), ?
  • James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), ?
  • Steve Daines (R-Montana),
  • John Kennedy (R-Louisiana),
  • Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), ?
  • and Mike Braun (R-Indiana),

and Senators-Elect:

  • Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming),
  • Roger Marshall (R-Kansas),
  • Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), ?
  • and Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama)

These Members of Congress signed a posted statement inciting violence in my nation’s capitol today. Lawless Trump supporters have even breached the Capitol Building itself, forcing the U.S. Senate and House to bar their doors and interrupt their proceedings at around 14:30 on January 6, 2021.

Official Election Mail trademark authorized by US Postal ServiceThe Senators’ statement pretends that there remains valid and significant contention about the results of our November 2020 election. These men and women are intentionally ignoring the fact that our courts have already acted in accordance with the law and found no legal justification for further action regarding purported irregularities.

2% of Americans believe the Earth is flat in spite of evidence to the contrary being plainly visible to the naked eye at sea or from a plane; the fact that a population being fed a steady diet of misinformation by social- and partisan media doubts reality makes it no wonder that, as per the Senators’ statement, “39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’

By your own admission in your statement, then, Senators, 61% of Americans must believe the election was valid. With the majority holding such an opinion, how do you justify encouraging rioting in the streets of Washington, D.C. and the interruption of the work of our nation’s government?

By continuing to defy the United States Constitution to which they’ve sworn allegiance, our laws, and the reasoned decrees of our state and federal judges, the Senators I’ve listed are feeding their constituents’ inflated paranoia, not doing their jobs as duly elected representatives.

Trump is attempting a coup. These Senators are complicit.

By all means, the Feckless Eleven—and others like freshman Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—are entitled to hold opinions and do their own research into how, when, and why our elections are imperfect. If they find any actual evidence of wrongdoing, they should bring it to the attention of the courts. It’s hard not to ask, however:

If they sincerely doubt the results of November’s ballots, how do the four newly elected Senators feel justified in showing up in Washington, D.C. at all? By their own logic, they have not received any mandate from their respective constituencies!

If [Senators-elect Lummis, Marshall, Hagerty, Tuberville, and Hawley] sincerely doubt the results of November’s ballots, how do [they] feel justified in showing up in Washington, D.C.?

Perhaps these treacherous Senators should use their own funds to continue investigating, if they sincerely believe there really are unsettled questions; their frequently seditious* states are also free to launch investigations from their own budgets. After all, elections in the United States of America are conducted by the states, each with its own local authority.

One might suppose the representatives of states known to still promote the idea that the Civil War was primarily about States’ Rights’ as opposed to slavery could comprehend this distinction.

These so-called Senators will earn a salary of at least $174,000 per annum to defend the U.S. Constitution. I’ve read that one woman inside the Capitol Building has already been shot. What are the odds it was one of these highly paid politicians glibly spouting conspiracy theories for personal gain as opposed to an aide or security guard serving her country for minimum wage?

Shame on you, Senators. America will remember your names, right alongside that of Benedict Arnold.USA flag - 1

Senators Daines and Braun publicly stated that they would not opt to object to Biden electors after violent extremists stormed the Capitol. In recognition of the update, I’ve lined through their names in my post. Screenshot from NYT article listing 8 Senators and 139 Reps who objected to Nov 2020 electoral votes for president

The Senators after whose names I’ve appended a question mark do not appear to have voted to object according to the New York Times, but they were not included in the AP statement I linked to above.

139 Members of the House of Representatives voted to object; their names are included in the NYT link above.

For those who haven’t followed the news, I’ll include the relevant snippet of Trump’s speech that literally instructed his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol Building. It should be noted that the man himself was lying when he stated that he would join the protestors in that action. Trump went back inside the White House and is reported to have spent the afternoon watching the chaos he’d instigated on television.

“…we’re going to walk down to the Capitol… I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your votes heard today.”

—Donald Trump’s speech of January 6, 2021 as reported on Snopes

* Seven states formed the Confederacy, seceding and initiating the U.S. Civil War: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, followed shortly thereafter by Texas.

The short-lived Confederate States of America added Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to total eleven states. Slave states Missouri and Kentucky were acknowledged as members, but neither officially declared secession. The Confederate Territory of Arizona is also worth remembering.

Half of the Senators I’ve called out in this post for their reckless, Constitution-violating actions hail from states with a history of rejecting the rule of U.S. law. Three of the others represent states did not yet exist as of 1861: Oklahoma, Montana, and Wyoming.

American Patriots must demand Legislators defend US law

A patriot is “one who loves and supports his or her country.”*

Merriam Webster dictionary definition of patriot from websiteI am a patriot.

Theoretically, elected officials in any reasonable incarnation of a democratic society should also be patriots. Of course, we know that self-serving, would-be autocrats abound in the halls of power. Human nature draws the worst—as well as the best—of us there. However, the U.S. Constitution was written as a curb against despotism.

Text of the Constitution of the United States in history bookYou cannot love America while wiping your nose with its foundational documents.

Two weeks after a nationwide election certified by our courts and by our own chosen election officials, only 17 out of 253 elected Republican lawmakers—6.7%—had publicly acknowledged that Biden defeated Trump in his bid for President of the United States. That leaves 93.3% of them derelict in their duties, openly flouting the oath each person swore as Senator or Representative to the 116th Congress: to support and defend the Constitution.

That’s not just a failure of bi-partisan politics worthy of personal shame, it’s the first step towards treason.*

Merriam Webster dictionary definition of treason from websiteTwo thirds of Americans voted in 2020; that’s a level of turnout that hasn’t been seen in over a century. At least 160 million members of the electorate are paying attention. Casting a ballot is important, but our work as citizens is not done.

I voted Election sticker - 1If you live in a district with a recalcitrant elected official, speak up as a constituent and demand that s/he acknowledge the will of the people. Take note of who’s doing his or her job, and whose back remains turned to what can be credibly described as an attempted coup by a blessedly incompetent strongman.

Fair-minded, law-abiding people must speak out now for what is right. In our silence, liars, cheaters, and extremists try to pervert American ideals, sullying our name. Moderates must now make themselves heard.

I respect honest disagreements, but I will never bow to tyranny.*

I acknowledge the will of the people.

I champion the rule of law.

I am a patriot.

Are you?

* Definitions from Merriam-Webster: patriot, treason, tyranny.

In 26 states, the ultimate person in authority over elections is him-/herself elected. Other states have an appointee in charge. A total of 33 states have elected individuals directly involved in oversight of their elections, sometimes via a board sharing responsibility with an appointed chief. In most others, the elected legislature or governor appoints someone to the position(s). Here’s a great resource for understanding regional election management differences across America. I learned a lot from it.

The gist of it all, however, is that the people in charge of our elections are themselves a product of our representative system; this is the way a constitutional federal republic is supposed to work.