NONE OF US IS FREE UNLESS WE ARE ALL FREE
By Stephanie Gerber Wilson, PhD
“And the women dancing with their timbrels Followed Miriam as she sang her song Sing a song to the One whom we've exalted Miriam and the women danced and danced the whole night long.”
Miriam’s Song by Debbie Friedman
This well known Passover song celebrates the Prophet Miriam, Moses’s sister, as she and the other Israelite women danced while their people walked to freedom from enslavement in Egypt through the parted Red Sea. Just as Miriam and her sisters helped guide the Jewish people’s journey into freedom, we look to the women and men who follow in their footsteps (that’s US), as we consider Passover in this time when women have lost bodily autonomy in MAGA-controlled America. Currently women (and Assigned Female at Birth people) are bearing the brunt, along with transgender people, of MAGA’s attempt to control the actual bodies of Americans. As we know, however, fascism does not end with its first victims, so we all must become agents of our own and our fellow humans’ liberation.
Historically, the Passover story in which Jews celebrate freedom from bondage has been metaphorical and aspirational, rather than literal. For most of modern history (after 70 CE when the Romans conquered Judea, destroyed Jerusalem, and exiled Jews for the next 6 centuries), Jews celebrating Passover in the worldwide diaspora were decidedly un-free. Every time we exhort ourselves to remember that WE, OURSELVES, had been slaves in Egypt, we are both imagining a day when we might be truly free AND learning the empathy of understanding that we must think of everyone’s bondage as our own. In other words, we’re not truly free until everyone is free.
While we call Passover "Zman Heruteinu," or the Time of our Freedom, it is actually a moment in the year in which our ancestors articulated their longing for freedom that they did not actually experience. We say at the end of the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” For most of our history the earthly city of Jerusalem was unavailable to more than a handful of Jews, so when we affirmed our desire to be in Jerusalem the following year, we affirmed our commitment to work toward a metaphorical Jerusalem, where we and others in bondage, under threat, or facing discrimination would find a world in which we are all equal, treated with respect and inclusion, and work together as allies to create a just world for everyone.
This year, as fascism rises throughout MAGA-captured states, and Christo-fascists have stolen our rights to reproductive freedom as well as the freedom of our children, our friends’ children, or ourselves to receive life-giving medical care, we remember that WE, OURSELVES have been enslaved in the past. And while we continue to affirm the longing for freedom for ourselves and other un-free people, we vow action to achieve that goal. This year, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” means that every Jewish person in America must fight for our fellow humans, our children, and ourselves to be free to choose whether and how to have children, live in our correct bodies, receive life-saving and life-affirming medical care, and live free from oppression and discrimination. None among us is relieved of the responsibility to procure reproductive freedom and the freedom to live as the correct gender (or to achieve racial equity, religious freedom, freedom from gun violence, and educational freedom). As one of Judaism’s most respected sages, Rabbi Tarfon, said, (paraphrased): It is not our responsibility to finish working toward our collective freedom, but none of us is permitted to ignore our siblings, wherever they may be.
May all of us, whatever our religion, race, gender, or location, be free to thrive, free to be who we are meant to be, and free to make our medical decisions with our doctors. That, for all of us, is The Time of Our Freedom (Zman Heruteinu), and together we will make it a reality.
I submitted this essay as part of Jewish Hoosiers For Choice’s Passover Essay Project.