Tag Archives: passover seder

Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet

3 Oct

Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

How are you all doing? It’s been 18 weeks since the killing of George Floyd, 1 week since the indictment for the bullets that hit Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s wall, and the non-indictment for killing Breonna Taylor, and 4 weeks since I last blogged.

Have you noticed that things have quieted down…and…they haven’t? Since I last wrote, we are not seeing as many televised Black Lives Matter marches. They are still taking place all across the country, but as usual, it seems the media stays hungry to capture the few where destruction occurs, perpetuating the narrative that protestors are violent, that Black Lives Matter, or, the Movement for Black Lives, is violent, and that white people should be very afraid. Yet, let’s take a closer look.

In August, we saw how the horrible killing of a five-year old white boy by his neighbor, a Black man, was used by white racists to try and draw some kind of correlation between a lack of outrage for this white child’s death at the hands of a Black person–which is highly rare–with the systemic violent deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers, which happens…a lot. Somehow, these gaslighters could not believe that Black, Brown and white “liberals” were also outraged and saddened by the boy’s tragic death, and could not make the connection that justice was served in this case. A manhunt and arrest and jail without bail of the boy’s killer occurred all within 24 hours. Contrast that with the six months it took after Breonna Taylor’s killing, to get the heartbreaking, but unsurprising news from the grand jury, that there would be no indictment in her death, other than for the one officer charged with wanton endangerment for the bullets fired not at Breonna Taylor, but at her neighbor’s house.

We saw in late August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Joseph Blake be shot in the back at close range by police officers while walking to his vehicle after trying to break up a domestic dispute. His children were sitting in the back seat of his car at the time. When protests broke out following the shooting, we saw 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a strong Blue Lives Matter supporter, and militia group member, fulfill his mission to support the police as they dealt with “rioters.” We learned Kyle’s mother drove him across state lines to do just that. We saw him use his AR-15 rifle to straight up shoot and kill protesters, Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and injure a third man. We saw Kenosha police allow Rittenhouse to roam the streets that night, with his rifle, even after he held his arms up in the air after killing the two men, as if surrendering. We saw police cruisers simply pass him by. We saw Rittenhouse arrested a few days later, alive, unscathed.

Just this past Tuesday, during the first presidential debate, we heard our President refuse to denounce white supremacy. We saw him instead prop up the white supremacist group, The Proud Boys, giving them the go ahead to “stand back and stand by.” Somehow, some of us thought it was merely dinner entertainment–a humorous evening watching two childish, old men shouting over one another.

So, just checking in, since the videos and memorial tribute memes of George, Ahmaud, Rayshard, Breonna, and Elijah have waned, and the racial justice proclamations made by many corporations are no longer flooding our social media feeds. As are the number of days ago growing, where we passionately said to our friends, co-workers, family, and ourselves, we were going to do something about all of this. I wanted to ask, how are we all doing with this? Are we allowing ourselves to be lulled back into complacency–into a forgetting that this movement requires us to keep at it every day?

I am remembering the article I wrote for Motif Magazine last month, with interviewee, AJS, activist, and member of Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). In a conversation we had afterward, AJS reminded me how all of us who seek to break down racism and the racist systems that uphold it, have to realize that we are part of a continuum. We have to keep doing the work. As white people, we need to support Black leaders who lead the charge in Black liberation. The work has been done before us. The work will be done after us. While we might not see the change we seek to see in our lifetimes, we must keep working, now supporting Black youth, Asian, Latino, Muslim youth, white youth, all of our young people, who are picking up this charge, so that our future generations can realize the changes we wish to bring to fruition.

And, I know we are tired of this virus, and wearing masks, and we just want to feel some semblance of normalcy as summer bid us goodbye, like breathing mask-free on the beach one more time, or dining outdoors at our favorite restaurants. We deserve some relief from having to stress over how we sent or didn’t send our kids to school, how we’ll pay our rent, how our businesses will survive, and how we will mail our ballots if they keep pulling our mailboxes out of the ground.

While I too, wish for carefree days, wish for certainty, I think of my friend, poet, actor and playwright, most recently of the upcoming, Invoice for Emotional Labor, Christopher Johnson. Christopher has posted on social media, and we have talked together about white apathy when it comes to the deaths of innocent Black people–and let’s just say for a time marker–beginning with the death of Jordan Davis in 2012. In reference to our upcoming presidential election, Christopher shared a meme that asked, will we, once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected–will we just go back to our brunch?

Will we? I’m asking, will we, white people, order the status quo avocado toast with a big side serving of white complacency? Will we put on, not our clear face shields, but opaque side blinders that enable us to block out everything in our vision and memory bank that reminds us of racial violence, of racism in education, housing, generational wealth building, and criminal justice? Will we keep our masks on long after we are finally able to shed them, so that our lips stay silent?

Or will we order the Fight The Powers That Be omelette? I was taught at our family’s yearly Passover Seder, the dinner service using symbolic foods and storytelling to remember the time the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, that the foods we nourish ourselves with that night hold great meaning. I ask today, will the egg in our omelette–which in the Seder represents both the symbol of life, and, a sacrificial offering in mourning of the destruction of our temple–now beckon us to both mourn the ongoing deaths and destruction of Black lives, and the mourning of our own souls which must be torn open, filleted, with urgency, as we acknowledge and reckon with the truth of our racist, violent lives, and history, once and for all? Will we heed the call to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about equality and liberation for Black people in this country? Will we allow the egg to renew and sustain ourselves in this cycle of life as we continue this fight? Because we know none of us are free until all of us are free, right?

Yes, let us take part in that kind of brunch. One that nourishes and keeps us on the path of the continued fight against racism in all it’s insidious forms and systems. I have faith in you. In us. I know that even though I haven’t been hearing all of us talking or posting as much about George Floyd, about Breonna Taylor, or about systemic racism, I know we want to keep fighting, right? Every day, right? At our places of work, at our schools, anywhere we encounter a Karen or Ken, and even, and especially when, we think nothing “wrong” is going on. Because it is. It is the systems that we think we can’t “see,” but I’m hoping that everyone who says their eyes are now open, cannot unsee. I’m hoping we will work on breaking those down most of all.

We can do the work right where we are. In our communities. We can learn how to advocate for and support Black people by reaching out, whether to an individual or to a Black led community organization, and ask how you can be an advocate and support–without causing emotional labor, without being a savior, and without trying to take that white person lead of “Here take this, I know what’s best for you.”

If you work in a school, or are a parent of a school child, you can advocate for and support Black and Brown leaders calling for equal resources, for curriculums and teaching and learning that honors all children, and for changes in the unjust, ineffectual, penalizing, school disciplinary systems. If you work in real estate, you can be the eyes and ears of unjust practices in those dealings. If you work in a non-profit organization serving BIPOC communities, and the leadership and board of that organization is majority white, and does not live in the neighborhood being served, be a part of breaking that down. If you care about the environment, you can get involved in environmental justice work. Ditto for all of our majority white spaces we find ourselves in, where Western, white cultural norms are seen as superior. You can question why there are not more Black people where you work, or where you order your outdoor latte, and ask why microaggressions that happen to your Black co-workers go unchecked. We can all learn that diversity doesn’t mean we get a few more token students of color in our schools, or co-workers in our office, and think everything is honky dory. We can learn it is about changing the culture, alongside our peers, not over them, so that everyone is equal, and white supremacist culture no longer reigns. This is a time of reckoning. The time is now. Order the omelette.

from the heart

it’s a start, a work of art

to revolutionize make a change

nothing’s strange

people, people we are the same

no we’re not the same

cause we don’t know the game

what we need is awareness, we can’t

get careless

you say what is this?

my beloved let’s get down to business

mental self defensive fitness

(yo) bum rush the show

you gotta go for what you know

to make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be

lemme hear you say

Fight the power lyrics @universal Music publishing group, by public enemy, 1989, songwriters: Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee

SOURCES: Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

Blacks and Jews and Matzo: My First Swirled Passover

28 Mar

Darla Sophia

Diana, Sophia, Ishmael

Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday; the Passover Seder my most cherished tradition.  The holiday celebrates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery under the Pharoahs’ rule in Egypt over 3,000 years ago.

I have fond memories of the Passover Seders held at my house with my family, grandparents and cousins.   The dining table was lengthened with card tables hidden beneath Russian lace cloths that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  It was set beautifully with dishes of charoset, parsley, salt water, horseradish, and matzoh in the center. The charoset represented the mortar Jewish slaves used to build with, the parsley dipped in salt water represented the tears the Jews cried during slavery.  Horseradish or morar, the bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of that time.

These small dishes were placed around the table for all of us to share, along with several plates of matzo, representing the hurried conditions in which the Jews had to make bread as they fled across the desert, leaving no time for it to leaven.  At  the head of the table, closest to my father’s seat, was the china Seder plate, that held all of the symbolic foods, including a lamb shank bone.  The bone symbolized the instruction the Jews were given by God to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb so that the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-born in these homes, sparing the Jews from the ten plagues brought down upon the Egyptians, and giving us the name of our holiday, Passover.

This year, my two daughters and I shared Passover with my friend Diana and her family.  Diana, an Anthropology Professor and all around cool lady,  led the Seder service, and we all took turns reading from the Haggadah.  The Haggadah contains the story of Passover, and instructs in what order how to partake in the various blessings and eating of symbolic foods, as well as songs, and the Four Questions.  The Four Questions are recited by the youngest children at the table and ask why we do things differently on this night than on every other night. At our Seder they were beautifully recited in Hebrew by Diana’s daughter Sophia.

Sophia enjoying matzo ball soup

Sitting around the table were Diana’s two stepsons, Ishmael and Michael, their girlfriends Kat and Alex, my daughters, Leni and Darla, Sophia, Diana’s boyfriend Jomo, friend Fatima and her son Lucas, and Diana’s late mother’s partner, Dick.


Now you know, my entire blog is built around what I call my humorous obsession with race relations; with connecting across color lines.  So, I was already glad going to Diana’s knowing I would be sitting at my first Seder that would include black and white faces sitting around the table.  This is something I hadn’t given much thought to in years past–the fact that the Seder tables I sat around were filled with fellow, white Jews and non-Jews.

With the mix of adults and kids at the table, the wine flowing, Diana’s enthusiastic leadership, I was simply having fun, feeling festive.  Yet, there were moments that resonated so deeply, that I felt myself being taken to another level of spiritual connection, one I had yet to experience at previous Seders.

Jomo standing and Ismael, Lucas, Darla, Sophia and Kat

As we read together aloud sections of the Haggadah, all of us reciting in unison, the words, slavery, oppression, and freedom, my heart grew fuller.  As we sang Let My People Go, and Jomo who sat beside me, related jokingly that he used his Paul Robeson register to sing the tune, I imagined an aura of golden glow circling our dining table.

When Israel was in Egypt land…
Let my people go!

Oppressed so hard they could not stand…
Let my people go!

So the God seyeth: ’go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt land
Tell all Pharaoes to
Let my people go!’

Now, I know my sentiments may sound Rainbow Coalition cheesy to some, and it’s not as if everyone around the table knew I envisioned us bound together, glowing, but when Diana’s son Michael emphasized his voice to rise above others when reciting the words oppression and freedom, and spoke about “breaking it down” in regard to the Hagaddah’s story of these two ideas, I knew I wasn’t alone in making connections.

Alex and Michael

As I helped to clear the matzo ball soup bowls from the table, I had a brief chat with Diana in the kitchen, and thanked her for inviting me to my first diverse Seder.  She quickly mentioned the Black Jew connection, which made me think of a much earlier post I wrote here, I’m Oppressed, You’re Oppressed.

In the post I reflected on the connections and frictions between Jews and Blacks, the commonality of knowing oppression and being considered less than human, the support of Jews during the Civil Rights movement, and the tension between Brooklyn’s Hasidic/Orthodox Jewish and Black residents.  I had one black reader comment that he was insulted that I even try to compare the Jew’s oppression with that of the centuries of slavery that black people endured.  He also noted that because of our white skin, Jews will always enjoy the status of white privilege never afforded to Blacks.

At the time, fearful of having offended, I deeply apologized to the reader.  I would still apologize for offending anyone with the sentiments I express here, yet I think I would have added some new thoughts I’ve had on that encounter.

Levels of oppression are not a contest.  It would never be my place to want to wager whether the suffering the millions of Jews experienced during the Holocaust, was equal or greater than the degradation and suffering of imposed slavery upon black people for numerous centuries, and for all of the systemic, institutional, and internalized racism that continues to exist in this country today; a fallout from the socially constructed idea of race and superiority created by white people.

We didn’t engage in this conversation at our Passover Seder, yet the topic of race came up briefly when Ishmael who is black and Kat, his girlfriend, who is white, spoke about how now living in Florida is opening their eyes to more overt forms of racism than they experienced while living in New England.

We continued into the evening,  just hanging out, experiencing the rituals of Passover together, eating the delicious food, sipping wine and grape juice, and singing songs like Dayenu, which means, it would have been enough.  The song recounts how if God hadn’t done all he had done to help the Jews escape slavery, it would have been enough.

Diana serving dessert

If Diana hadn’t invited us all together, so many of us meeting for the first time, from different places, of different races, and if she hadn’t cooked for several days, plates of steaming matzo ball soup, roasted lamb, gingered carrots, and flourless chocolate cake, and if she hadn’t hidden the afikomen (matzo) for the children to find, and if she hadn’t led us to mouth the words together of slavery, oppression and freedom, reminding us that her own mother who passed away just a year ago used to lead her and her family in the same Seder rituals, and if she hadn’t done this all with joy in her heart and an infectious enthusiasm for the night, it would have been enough.

Happy Passover y’all.


Finding the Afikomen. Sophia, Lucas, and Darla


Kat and Sophia

Lucas holding Haggadah, Fatima, Dick

Sophia and Darla