Thursday, April 13, 2006

The strangers within our midst: we ourselves went forth from Egypt...

So last night and tonight, I am at the homestead with Dad, Momma K, Stimpy, and various and sundry guests. And I've been thinking a lot about the responsibilities charged to us in the text of the Haggadah (the narration of the Passover story which is read during the seders of Passover). In Ha Lachma Anya (the bread of affliction), we say let all who are hungry come in and eat, all who are in distress come celebrate Passover. My folks, who alternate between CCAR's "A Passover Haggadah" and the rebbes of Maxwell House (who to this day still have not fixed the transliteration of Adir Huso people who would like to join in but don't know the hebrew cannot.) The Maxwell House and the CCAR agree on this one passage (translation taken from CCAR):

"In every generatio, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth Egypt, as it is written: And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what the Eternal did for me, when I, myself, went forth from Egypt."

and then, the CCAR follows up some extra citations before continuing the paragraph:

Still we remember: it was we who were slaves... we who were strangers" and therefore, we recall these words as well:
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9)
When Strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them.. you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34)
You shall rejoice before G-d with your son and daughter.. and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow in your midst. Always Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:11-12)
You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the orphan, remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)
Now, I've been known to be wrong on things, but it seems to me that these passages are particularly relevant these days, given the current events going on in this country. If you've been out of it, really busy, or living under a rock, there were rallies for immigrant rights in over 35 states (including half a million strong in Knucklehead's own Dallas TX). This mobilization was in response to the measures by Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Representative James Sensenbrenner, who would rather make it felonies to help someone who needs medical attention and build thousand mile walls (with our copious budget surplus... er, uh, never mind).

It's amazing to see the Republican party fracture under the weight of this issue. While racism is often used to keep working class folks fighting amongst themselves so the rich can get richer, it seems that this time, racism and greed are now locked in a bitter struggle. Do we try to hunt down every "illegal immigrant" (i find that term is ironic at at best when used by citizens of a country stolen from those that lived here first, people that were lied to on every treaty this government could print) and ship em out, build a berlin wall 2,000 miles long? Or do we keep profiting off the hard sweatshop labor immigrants put in daily? They toil in silence, afraid to speak up for themselves, making below minimum wage with no labor rights to speak of... well, they toiled in silence until this week. After being threatened by the tough talk of the Republican Party, they decided to be silent no more.

This country was built by immigrants, either brought here against their will from Africa, or fleeing for their lives in the Pogroms of Russia. Cotton fields, shirtwaist factories, railroads, mines, automobile plants, guess what? Immigrants. Know what's changed? Not much. And the business leaders want to keep it that way. What, no punishment for the people EMPLOYING illegal immigrants under the harshest of conditions? That's a good question for the xenophones too... so if somebody's broke and looking for work, and somebody else takes advantage of that desparation by employing them under whatever conditions they choose, who's the bad guy? The person trying to feed her/his family? or the person skimping 2-5 dollars per hour off the top (minimum wage, payroll taxes, benefits) to finish paying for his/her second house/sportscar/boat?

As Rabbi Arthur Waskow already noted: "Passover" is happening in the streets of America this week. It is coming not from a written book, but from the hearts and minds and legs and prayers of a people. It is happening in Spanish and "Spanglish" more than in Hebrew. Two million people in the streets against a Pharaoh who is saying "Let us make it a criminal act, a felony to be punished with prison at 'hard labor,' to live in the United States without a document. Let us make it a felony to feed or heal or educate or comfort these criminals. Let us build a wall, with guns to kill anyone who dares to cross - just as the ancient Pharaoh ordered the murder of the boy-children of this folk whose name, "Hebrews," meant "the ones who cross over"; the wetbacks." continued
The occurance of this struggle happening at the same time of Pesach is not a coincidence to me. We have a choice, to remember how we've been changed to treat the stranger, widow, and orphan, or we can leave them on the nasty dilemma of deportation or undocumented slavery. We can think about G-d pouring out wrath "on the same guy I've wanted him to pour wrath out on for five years" (quoth knucklehead) and we can know that, like everything else, chucklenutz is using words he simply doesn't mean (props to Mik at Jspot).

We too have a responsibility in this, to make this fight about how we treat human beings who make this country exist. We must see the slaves in our midst, and remember that before G-d took us, ourselves, from bondage, we were slaves too. Telling them that our grandparents didn't know english and they still succeeded is not the solution. We must act. And now.


Blogger ZT said...

as one religious leader said in the washington rally for immigrant justice:


it was embarassing to have seen over 100,000 people at the march and no other kippah wearers.

1:24 AM  

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