March 29, 2018
At the end of this month, Jews will begin our celebration of Passover, when we remember the Exodus—our liberation from slavery in Egypt, the beginning of our journey to the Promised Land. As Michael Walzer pointed out in his classic Exodus and Revolution, the Exodus story is not simply about the ancient Israelites, but has become the template for subsequent liberation movements.
The Festival of Freedom comes as the American Jewish community has spent the past six months acting in solidarity with the immigrant youth President Trump has threatened with deportation through his cancellation of DACA. We have called our members of Congress to demand they pass the Dream Act to protect these young people, we have organized protests and rallies, and we have engaged in civil disobedience and been arrested in support of this cause. Unfortunately, it appears that Congress does not have the political will to take action.
With Passover approaching, and with Congress having failed again and again to intervene in support of the Dreamers, we can learn from the Israelites’ journey from bondage to freedom as we continue our efforts to secure protection for these young immigrants.
The story of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt closely mirrors the plight of the immigrant youth currently living in fear thanks to the president’s destruction of DACA. When the Israelites first settled in Egypt, the land was ruled by a ‘good Pharaoh,’ a close friend and ally of their leader Joseph. When that Pharaoh died, a new leader with no relationship with Joseph or the Israelites took over, and a time of uncertainty and suffering began.
When Moses first sought to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he didn’t immediately storm into Pharaoh’s palace and demand their freedom. He started with a smaller request: Asking Pharaoh’s permission to let the Israelites leave for a few days to worship in the desert wilderness. Only when Pharaoh refused this simple request did the ten plagues begin, growing in severity until the Egyptians finally relented and the Israelites obtained their long-sought freedom.
To this point, the Jewish community has followed a similar path in our efforts for the Dream Act, following the lead of the immigrant youth who are fighting for their lives and families. We started with traditional advocacy—calling elected officials and holding rallies. When these tactics proved insufficient to persuade Congress to act, in January we escalated to one of the largest acts of Jewish civil disobedience in recent memory. With immigrant youth ringing the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, more than 80 Jewish Americans sat on the Rotunda floor, singing and chanting until we were forcibly removed and arrested.