Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I cannot imagine leaving my home and everything I own. I cannot imagine leaving my friends and my family with only a small bag and a mind full memories. I cannot imagine traveling for weeks, sometimes months to reach an unknown destination where people speak a different language and have foreign customs and traditions. I cannot imagine it, but each year at Passover I, with a gathering of friends and family, reenact it.

Passover is the holiday that recounts the Jews leaving Egypt where we were slaves and moving to freedom in a new land. We begin the eight days with a seder, a scripted dinner that retells the story, and observe the days by abstaining from chametz, leavened food. In my home, the Passover seder focuses on the story of liberation and relief and release from exile. We sing and laugh and cry and eat food in excess. The seder is filled with as much mystery as it is with memory. It has as many questions as answers. It is, for me, one of the most important and meaningful holidays in the Jewish calendar. This year our seder will gather a dozen or so around the table – Jews and Gentiles, straight and gay, black and white – and we will read from the Haggadah, sing, and eat together.

While there is much in the ritual and the holiday that I cannot imagine it in concrete terms in my own life, I connect profoundly with this narrative. Passover is in many ways the narrative of many immigrant communities in the “melting pot” or “salad bowl” of the United States. We all have family stories of how our ancestors traveled from the land that was our home to the new land that now is our home.

One part of our Passover ritual is to reflect on the things in our world today that bind us and oppress us and to wish for a release from that oppression over the next year. At our seder, with gay and lesbian family and friends, homophobia and heterosexism are two forms of oppression that we often consider. We also talk about sexism at our seder and racism. This year, I’ll also be thinking about xenophobia and how it is playing out in Presidential politics and U.S. immigration policy.

It confounds me that given our history as immigrants to the United States, we collectively in this country seek out policies that limit and even harm new immigrants. This spring leading up to Passover I have been very moved by the stories of immigrants, particularly men, women, and children who have come to the United States from central and south America. Policies that make life more difficult and challenging for current and future immigrants simply have no place in the United States.

In my ideal world, I’d like to see the United States have open borders making it easy for people to move into and out of the United States without negative consequences from the government. People wanting to come to the United States today would be able to do so with the same ease, and actually fewer challenges, as people coming from Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Russia, and other European nations.

When we say, “Next year in Israel,” at the close of the seder, Israel is the imagined place of justice and loving-kindness. Israel is the world that we are working to create where everyone can live freely and honestly and openly. Israel is for us as our seder the location of freedom from oppression – as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, as people committed to equality between the sexes and among the races, and as immigrants. We are all world travelers looking for a place to live freely and openly and honestly, and, at the seder, we are all committed to creating that place where we are at this moment.

Word count: 651

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #22 dated April 22, 2008 in the

No comments: