Two weeks ago we began reading the Book of Exodus, and never before has the opening of the Book felt so real. Never before has the rise of the new Pharaoh—who feared outsiders and those with dissenting opinions—felt so relevant. And, more optimistically, never before has its message of struggle, resistance, and confidence of belief felt more edifying. We are the descendants of the Israelites who fled famine in Canaan and saw Egypt as a land of opportunity. Yet as the generations passed and the memory of Joseph fades, the Israelites' story culminates in slavery.
But this did not happen overnight, nor was a regime change the sole reason for this drastic descent. We have to believe, as one participant in the original This American Shabbat pointed out, it had to have been due, at least in part, to ordinary Egyptians' indifference. A regime change spurred the descent and provided the legality for it, but the citizens who lived next door to the Israelite sojourners sowed their fate; Jewish history is a history of non‑Jewish neighbors turning a blind eye.
We have inherited the tradition of those who were expelled from Spain and told they were no longer welcome. And we are the children, grandchildren, friends, or quite possibly ourselves, the Survivors of the Holocaust, which too began with indifference. If we are to learn one thing from the Torah, if there is one truth from the Book of Exodus, it is that we were once strangers in a strange land. And now Jews, more than any other people, are better equipped to see those who have been forced into vulnerable positions. We must now fully sink our teeth into the book that chronicles our swift decay from normalcy to slavery, and we must stand up and say No. That we inherit the heart of Moses, who despite physical limitations and emotional fears spoke to and for his fellow Israelites and, more importantly, spoke to their master—he knew the truth of the story before it was written and, now, so do we.
I was at O'Hare Airport Sunday night. I was scared to go. Is it my place? How will I be perceived wearing my kippah? Am I going as David or as Rabbi Minkus of Congregation Rodfei Zedek? Involving myself, even on the periphery is not something that comes naturally or with much ease. But now, as is often the case with the Torah, which was written in a different time for a different audience, it has demonstrated its eternal flame of guidance and sanctity. I am new to using my voice to speak to power—I am not used to being the one who feels more secure than many others, and I am sure I am not alone. Let us help each other recognize the ways we can stand up for what it means to be American and how we live out the essence of what it means to be a Jew. We need to ensure that, as actively as we can, we are always demanding justice; and let's do it as a community, as the Congregation "Pursuers of Justice".
I am proud that Rodfei Zedek is a member of United Synagogue and that I am a member the Rabbinical Assembly and graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary, who, along with many others, have condemned President Trump's travel ban.
These are uncertain times, when it seems like that uncertainty and fear may increase before it subsides. Let us all lean in rather than sitting back.
January 31, 2017