Often when I tell other parents I am already beginning the conversation about slavery with Tin, they wrinkle their nose and say “there are many cultures that have had slavery.” And don’t think the point is lost on me, or on any Jew tonight who is sitting down to Passover seder to commemorate the gran Exodus from Egypt. And as a Sephardic, this night has double meaning because in 1492, Spanish Jews, my ancestors, were kicked out of Spain and dispersed to Africa, South America and the Middle East. Then in the 1920’s, my grandparents had to leave Istanbul for religious reasons again, where their family had relocated for over four centuries. They moved to Cuba, which is where I was almost born, but then we had to leave there in 1959. My entire family history brings new meaning to the term Wandering Jews.
But I digress. The fact of the matter is yes, 3,000 years ago my people were slaves, and while that was a long, long time ago, and while Jews still remember that time and close their seder dinners with a toast and a prayer, “Never Again.” The real difference is it wasn’t 150 years ago as when slavery ended here in this country, actually when the enslavement of African Americans supposedly ended, but then there was the Jim Crow period, which was another name for slavery, and that didn’t end until half a century ago.
So today, while Tin was eating matzo and I was explaining why we eat matzo, it was not lost on me that it is more palatable for a white mother to tell her black son about slavery when she can point to her own people being enslaved because she’s Jewish. Yet, the wound inflicted on African Americans, on this country, and thereby on everyone who lives here is still too raw and the history and memory too often neglected.
It would be nice to sweep slavery under the rug and look at the fact that we now have a biracial, half African, president, but we all know that racism is more alive today than ever. So I’m thinking that when Tin and I move into our new house, we might broaden our seder to include memory of what happened to both of our ancestors, and to pray for healing for all beings who are oppressed, and to vow to work together on a life of healing, not forgetting.