Before the Exodus There Was Visibility

This has been a weird holiday season. I feel like since the election last year I’ve been saying that for each Jewish holiday. It’s like Trump has codified a modern American bigotry. This Passover the 🙄 has ranged from the benign, well-meaning gentile telling me about their non-Jewish seder1 to articles claiming a Christian connection to the Passover tradition2.

But I digress. All I meant to do was to offer some context for my head-space, not go off on a rant about those things in particular. But things have been weird and stressful. I was thinking about some of these things during my family’s seders, as well as trying not to think about them, when something stuck out to me in the story of the exodus. While still in Egypt the Jews painted lamb’s blood on their doorposts in order for god to pass by and not kill the Jewish first-born3. But there’s also a great deal of talk in our haggadah about not hating the Egyptians. It is also a strangely passive act of rebellion. It’s god who makes the Pharaoh refuse to release the Israelites from slavery. And it’s god who intervenes with the direct plagues. The Jews, on the other hand, try diplomacy and, in the case of the tenth and final plague, an act of visibility.

Visibility as an act of defiance has been huge recently. The March for Our Lives protests were an enormous, nationwide moment of visibility for people sick of gun violence in the US. Last week, on March 31st, we had the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Again, an instance of people standing up against violence and oppression simply by making their existence known. And even over in Israel, Palestinians protesting for the annual Palestinian Land Day were met with violence and death.

Poland is in the midst of trying to erase their history of antisemitism and make it illegal to discuss it. The UK is (not) dealing with rampant antisemitism in the Labor party. Jews in Berlin are not wearing stars of David or taking of their yarmulkes in public in order to blend in. The World Zionist Organization reports that a survey they did shows one in four European Jews hide visible signs of their Jewishness. The ADL reported antisemitic incidents up 67% last year. I wrote about starting to wear my star of David and chai necklaces again after Trump took office.

The message that stood out to me during the reading of the story of my people’s exodus from slavery wasn’t the exit, but the strong actions that preceded it. That painting of the doorposts, that silent but visible action, is what saved their lives. It’s what changed their status from slaves to a free people.

I am not advocating for visibility because it’s passive. That alone isn’t what freed the Jews and that alone won’t free anyone else protesting their oppression and bondage. But I am advocating visibility as a constant minimum. It’s harder to ignore a group of people if they are still seen on the streets on a day-to-day basis even when their protest has ended. That we not vanish, only to appear to the public during bouts of public outcry. Be present. Be loud. And be in plain view. If you feel that you can do so safely, or that you can no longer hide. Jewish, Palestinian, Trans, Female, Black, Native, or simply students sick of the acceptance of US school shootings. Be present and be visible. Because if we’re not planning on making another exodus, then we need to claim our freedom where we live.

Notes   [ + ]

1. And telling an Ashkenazi Jew that you prepared lamb isn’t going to win you the points you think. And I seriously doubt that it’s because you did research into Sephardic customs.
2. Sorry to say that if you think Jesus was eating what we now consider a Passover meal for the last supper, that tradition wouldn’t be created until centuries later. This particular article fails in both history and basic linguistic claims, and there’s really no need to bother reading it.
3. Fun fact: If you read the actual text, it’s god itself that comes through Egypt and slaughters the first-born, not a separate entity like the angel of death. That’s just how it’s come to be thought of in pop-culture.
Adam

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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