Our Fates Are Intertwined: Lessons From the Erev Rav

Our Fates Are Intertwined: Lessons From the Erev Rav

June 20, 2024

This piece was originally shared in the Forward, as part of the "Moving Through the Wilderness" series.

By Jamie Beran and Graie Hagans

Each Passover, we recount our people’s harrowing escape from Egypt and the 40 years of wandering that followed. A lesser told part of the story is that the Israelites left Egypt with an Erev Rav — a mixed multitude of people from all walks of life — who set out together in pursuit of something better.

The story goes that there was a group of Egyptians (and others) who took the opportunity to leave Egypt along with the Israelites. Maybe some left because they saw our G-d as more powerful. Others, because they thought society in Egypt was crumbling. Some may have just gotten swept up with the departing masses. But some saw their own freedom tied to the Israelites and didn’t want to stay in an oppressive society, even if they weren’t the ones being enslaved. Rabbinic tradition has often scapegoated the Erev Rav and blamed it for hard times faced by the Israelites. But we see it differently. We take from it the inspiration to build a future where the fate of Jews is intertwined with others.

For the past 10 years, Bend the Arc has been on our own journey towards racial equity and liberation. This commitment has taken many shapes, evolving in parallel with a changing world and Jewish community. And we’ve learned many of the same lessons that were learned from wandering the desert as a mixed multitude. That we stay on the journey, even when it feels hard and we don’t know the clear path forward. That we recognize when the narrowness is catching up with us, and commit to staying in relationship across differences anyway. That we do the hard work of expanding our circles of care so we can recognize that what is bad for the Jews is likely bad for us all. And that we not let our fears, pressures, or desires for safety lead us to choose to isolate ourselves from alliances we’ve built over decades of social justice work.

This also applies today within our Jewish community, as a diverse and complex people: multiracial, immigrants, gay and trans, part of interfaith families, and who hold a wide range of political beliefs and life experiences. Our own futures are intertwined in this bigger mixed multitude, and we believe the best way to combat the prejudice we face is by working together with all people who face prejudice and oppression. It took people from all walks of life to leave the narrow place of Pharaoh’s Egypt, wander the desert together, and find the promised land. So too today, we must do the hard work to create a true multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious democracy, so all people can be safe and free.

Jamie Beran (she/her) is the CEO of Bend the Arc and Graie Hagans (he/they) is the Chief Vision Officer of Bend the Arc, where they are building a multiracial movement of Jews and allies across the country to fight for an American future free from white supremacy, antisemitism, and racism.

“Moving Through the Wilderness: Recommitting to Equity After 10/7” is a collection of brief essays born out of Elevate: An Executive Leadership Equity Accelerator. Elevate launched in May 2023 and its first cohort consisted of eleven CEOs of influential Jewish institutions, who are committed to the Jewish value and responsibility of equity within our community. The idea for this project emerged in Montgomery, Alabama during one of Elevate’s in-person convenings in early 2024. To learn more about Elevate and the program’s co-founders and leaders, Gamal J. Palmer and Catherine Bell, click here.

Moving Through the Wilderness is presented in partnership with the Forward, the leading voice in Jewish journalism.