Whenever I read the Exodus story during Passover, I’m struck by a curious note: that when the Children of Israel left Egypt, a “mixed multitude” (i.e. Egyptians, and most likely other people enslaved during Egyptian conquests, like Syrians, Nubians, and Canaanites) went with them (Exodus 12:38). My first question is, given the last plague of the Angel of Death who wiped out every firstborn Egyptian son, why on earth would anyone who wasn’t an Israelite leave everything they knew behind to go with these people, on behalf of whom their children had just been slaughtered?
To me that passage makes no sense — unless the non-Israelites who were going to leave with them spent the night in Israelite homes, being sheltered from divine retribution by their Israelite neighbors. And isn’t that a lovely thought?
Every time I sit down at a seder, I wonder, “Who should we be helping to freedom? Who should we be sheltering? And what do we need to do to make that more than rhetoric?” It’s become a thing in some of my circles to invite vulnerable people — whether they’re from marginalized groups that are the target of more-focused-than-usual animosity, or people in otherwise precarious circumstances —to the seder. That’s nice, I suppose, but it’s just a gesture unless it’s more than that. I feel like it’s important to provide tangible help before I issue the invite.
So each year before Passover, I make a list of seven groups of marginalized people who aren’t as free as I am, and I do at least one thing to help a member or members of each group. (Yes, I always donate, but I also try to do something that isn’t just giving money to connect on a more personal level.)
Here are the groups I’m particularly thinking of this year (this list isn’t complete, of course, and the order is random). I encourage you to think of these people — and anyone else who’s marginalized or struggling — before, during, and after you celebrate your own freedom this Passover:
1. LGBT folks, especially trans people.
Do I know any LGBT kids who might not be safe at home? Whose families don’t accept them, or are trying to “fix” them? Have I let them know that they’re welcome to come to my home if they’re afraid, if they can’t take it anymore? Do I know LGBT people in states with laws that are more hostile than those of my home state? Are they trying to get out? If so, what am I doing to help them? Can I help them find work here? Can I give them a place to stay until they find one of their own? Can I help pay for documentation for trans folks with their correct name and gender markers?
2. Domestic violence victims.
Do I know people who are being abused and are afraid to leave? What can I do to help them get out? Can I provide them a place to hide? Can I help them lock down their accounts and online presence? Can I give them money for things they might need once they’re not living at home? Can I give them rides to work so they’re less vulnerable in transit? Can I help them find an attorney? Can I go with them to the courthouse to get a restraining order or finalize a divorce?
3. People in abusive work situations.
This might sound trivial in comparison to refugees, abuse victims, and terrified LGBT people, but it’s not. For most of us, work takes up most of our waking hours, and we need a job to keep food in our mouths and a roof over our heads. Abusive work situations can cause PTSD, destroy people’s health, wreck their relationships, and worse. Financial insecurity traps a lot of people at jobs that are killing them — sometimes literally. Can I help them find new jobs? Can I recommend a therapist who might be able to help them cope until they can get out? Can I help them research their legal rights?
They left horrific situations, looking for a better life here. How can I make sure they find one? I can give money to organizations that help them, obviously. Can I help them with food? Can I help them practice their English, if they aren’t fluent? Can I offer somewhere to stay? How can I use the expertise that I have simply from having lived here my entire life to help them navigate this place?
5. Incarcerated mothers.
Mother’s Day comes up not long after Passover. National Bail Out focuses on helping Black incarcerated mothers who can’t afford bail to get out so they can be home for Mother’s Day. While the organization focuses primarily on Black women, queer mothers, trans mothers, immigrant mothers, and especially young or old mothers are also potential recipients of the fund’s resources. Donate in honor of Pharaoh’s daughter, who hired Moses’ mother to nurse him, using her position of privilege to reunite a mother and child.
Elderly people often don’t have the freedom younger people do, especially if they don’t have their own transportation. Even if all their basic needs are accounted for, it can be lonely and boring and isolating. If you have elderly friends or relatives you’re close to, maybe visit a few extra times, and offer to take them somewhere they’d like to go. (And make sure they can get to a seder if they want to go!)
7. Separated families at the border.
Jewish history should ensure a full-body shudder every time we think of families torn apart and children in detention camps. I feel like I don’t have anything new to say about this — it’s a disgrace. Here are a bunch of things to do to help migrant families who’ve been separated at the border.
In the words of Emma Lazarus, whose poem is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
As we celebrate our own freedom, let’s all do at least one more thing than we might have otherwise to ensure freedom for others. May next year see us closer to making wherever we live a promised land.