In Every Generation: Confronting Injustice, Racism, Antisemitism

Dear friends,

A powerful theme of the Passover seder is “b’chol dor v’dor” — in every generation. In every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we left Egypt. By doing so, we internalize both our freedom and, at the same time, the fragility, vulnerability, and oppression that our ancestors have experienced.

This internalization helps to inspire Judaism’s universal values, including empathy and ethical responsibility for human dignity and well-being anywhere. The Torah states: “Do not oppress the stranger, because you yourselves know what it is like to have been strangers, and to have been oppressed.” This is both an ethical mandate and a theological claim: Our God hears the cry of the most vulnerable in society and holds all of us accountable for not playing our part in alleviating suffering.

We are reeling from the murders of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian-American women. We are recalling the horrific cruelty captured on video during the last minutes of George Floyd’s life as we watch the trial in Minneapolis, one that forces us to reckon with and confront hundreds of years of injustice against Black people, Indigenous peoples, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, and all People of Color. When an Asian-American woman cannot even walk down a street without being assaulted in broad daylight while onlookers turn away, it’s a very scary time for so many.

For many of us, the seder this year included reflection, conversation — even reckoning. How can we tell our Passover story and not feel compelled to stand in support of these communities and against the acts of hatred perpetrated against them? How can we tell our story and not ask ourselves what it means to have power and privilege in a society where others still do not have equal opportunity, nor experience the kind of freedom that many of us experience today?

There is also another “b’chol dor v’dor” in the seder: In every generation there are those who rise against us and try to destroy us. This is not just about internalizing the suffering of our past, nor merely an expression of Jewish inherited, intergenerational trauma. It is a poignant reminder that Jew hatred is not going away. We continue to see proof all around us that antisemitism, which has been called the “oldest hatred,” continues to rear its ugly head and evolve in new ways. To ignore this is to ignore both reality and another Jewish value: the survival, safety, and well-being of ourselves and Jews around the world.

It is impossible not to be mortified when witnessing rioters storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6 carrying Nazi flags or wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. This kind of violent antisemitism — Jew hatred by white supremacists — is glaring and scary. As Bari Weiss often says, this is the kind of antisemitism that walks into a room and punches you in the face — you can’t miss it.

And then there are the more subtle controversies in past months and years, such as The New York Times editorial cartoon picturing the Israeli Prime Minister as a dog with a Jewish star around his neck, leading former President Trump around. Or the controversy over Michael Che’s joke on Saturday Night Live about Israel vaccinating only Jews (not “Israelis,” but “Jews”).

It is true that we need to create more space in our community for legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies, and reasonable people can and should debate the limits and boundaries of satire as important political and moral commentary (the editors of Israel’s The Jerusalem Post, for example, argued that the response to Che was unreasonable).

To me, the more concerning story is how few people even recognize why the use of historic, antisemitic tropes — which have stoked hatred against Jews for millennia — are so problematic. How can we tell our Passover story and not be deeply concerned that, just two generations after the Holocaust, so few people today can identify antisemitism, let alone have the confidence to speak out and stand up when they do?

Recent incidents here in our Boston area have forced us to confront that antisemitism is alive and well “in our own backyard.” Those include a now-former Lowell school committee member casually using the K-word on local television and the Duxbury football team repeatedly calling plays named “Auschwitz,” “rabbi,” and “dreidel.” These incidents are not overtly ideological or sensational; they are unsettling reminders of nonchalant, “everyday” antisemitism.

I am grateful to our partners at the Jewish Community Relations Council, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and other organizations that continue to advocate and fight against antisemitism, bigotry, and hate, and to The Boston Globe for its coverage this week, shining a light on the importance of mandatory Holocaust education. It seems clear that Holocaust education is only the beginning.

A thriving Jewish community is one that transmits its story from generation to generation, drawing inspiration and urgency to pursue both self-preservation and equity and justice for all. Passover reminds us that knowing our story and learning the lessons of history are essential, and we have work to do.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.