At Passover & Always: On Freedom, Religion… And Welcoming Everyone

Sometimes, being Southern and Jewish means raising our voice. The Board of Directors of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) meets in person twice a year, and approximately every fourth meeting is held in Jackson, Mississippi, where the regional organization is headquartered. This April, the Board gathered together once more in Mississippi, right as the conversations were heating up around the state’s controversial HB 1523.

The board and staff were all discussing this bill (and similar measures in other places, such as North Carolina) over meals and between sessions, as well as more formally around the board table. The ISJL is a nonpartisan, apolitical organization. We don’t lobby. But this bill was not put to a vote by an electorate. It was enacted by lawmakers, signed rather than vetoed by the governor, and has spurred a lot of conversation—and particularly as Passover approaches, it is a conversation in which we must participate. As Southerners, as Jews, and simply as people committed to loving our neighbors, we cannot be silent. It is not a question of politics, but of protesting something impacting our neighbors and to which we must say “Not in our name.”

This is the official statement the ISJL has issued regarding HB 1523, and all such similar “Religious Freedom” bills:

The Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) condemns the recent passage of Mississippi House Bill 1523, the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” The ISJL is committed to respecting the rights of all of our staff, constituents, community partners, and fellow citizens.

Our faith guides us in ensuring we protect the rights of all people. This month, as we gather for the holiday of Passover and commemorate the Jewish people’s deliverance from slavery to freedom, we will remember the commandment from the Book of Exodus that “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). This commandment to care for the stranger appears in our Torah more than any other. Through its repetition, our tradition warns us that there will always be those looking to subvert the rights of others, and that we must not allow them to succeed.

We remain firmly committed to protecting the rights of all people, regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Compelled by our faith, our commitment to our entire community, and our biblical imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18), we call on Governor Bryant and the Mississippi State Legislature to repeal this legislation before it takes effect this summer. We condemn all such similar bills and acts in other states and communities, and alongside our neighbors we will continue to pray and work for a better world for all. 

Again, in the spirit of Passover, we wish everyone freedom and liberty. All of our neighbors deserve freedom from oppression in all forms. May we remember that our goal is to escape narrow places, and not to create them for others.

READ: 5 Seder Supplements to Make Your Passover Relevant This Year

This year, we have also created a supplemental Passover reading. It will be read at Southern seder celebrations across the region, and we invite you to read it at your seder table as well. It is available for free download here, and explores the nature of strangers in strange lands — a position to which we should all be able to relate. Let us be among those who raise our voices in welcome, and make room for everyone at our table.

Chag Pesach sameach (a happy Passover holiday)… to all of y’all!

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