May our memory serve us well this Passover

As the eve commemorating the passing-over of the Israelite homes in Egypt approaches here in New York, I hoped to share with you the following thought:
Communities are developed along the lines of shared memory–and the stronger the narrative of that memory, and the more one can agree on that memory’s story and meaning, the stronger the community.
The Exodus, of course, is the gold-standard of communal recollection; Once a year, nearly two-thirds of all Jews in the US–and probably a significant more in Israel and around the world–sit down to recall the creation of our People. Moreover, the Exodus narrative has inspired generations and peoples across space and time. From the Founding Fathers of the United States to the Liberation Theologians of South America, those seeking collective freedom have come back time and again to our story of communal liberation and sought solace in our history.
Interestingly, however, the more we Jews assimilate into our surrounding societies, the less wetend to focus on our own story and the more we also attempt to incorporate the stories of others into our own narrative. Hence haggadot that tell of slavery around the world, or haggadot that incorporate ideological themes of identity politics.
Is this open-ended narrative a sign of strength? A way to bring the unaffiliated or un-emotionally-connected into the fold? I’m not so sure. As Jonathan Mark recently wrote in the Jewish Week, “On your wedding anniversary you don’t buy flowers for other women.” Sometimes giving a little exclusive attention to one person helps do more good to the world than sharing one’s attention with many.
As such, on this Passover I do not wish you to free yourself from your internal Pharaohs, or to set yourself anew upon freeing slaves in sub-Saharan Africa. These are all noble causes and should indeed be taken up, and once the holiday passes there will be an entire year ahead to focus on ridding the world, macro and micro, of injustice and fear.
But for today, for Passover, I wish us all to remember that many of the problems that beset humanity can only be solved through collective action–and that since organizing masses of people to work towards a common goal takes a strong narrative to direct myriad energies, that sometimes we need invest in our own narrative, unfiltered and unadulterated. This is that time; today is the day.
I wish us all to remember that in the Hebrew tradition, there is not such thing as an individual existing alone–even in the story of Creation it is written, “man and woman He created them,” together, because we as humans are collective animals–who can create great things when united, and destroy whole worlds when our narratives conflict.
As such, in recognition of that awesome power inherent in society, I hope we may all find awe in the unlimited potential in our small corner of humanity, despite or rather inspite of all of its complications, and I hope we will use this Passover to reinvest our energies into the story of our People, crossing ideological and denominational and geographical boundaries to develop a stronger shared narrative for these new times ahead.


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