Jewish Journal

Rev. Lee and the true meaning of Passover

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 13, 2008 | 2:18 am

In the discussion over what Rev. Lee did and didn’t say, David Sackman contributed a lengthy commentary so insightful that it deserves its own post. Here’s the top of his thoughts.

I am disturbed, not by the content, but by the direction, of the entire discussion regarding the relationship between Blacks and Jews, and particularly by the discussion about comments supposedly made at a recent awards ceremony here in Los Angeles.

I am Jewish, of European ancestry; my wife is Black, with Chinese and Native American ancestry included. What shall we tell our son this Passover, when we re-tell the tale of how his Jewish ancestors were freed from slavery in Africa?

Shall we trade accusations against each other, like those reported in “Allegations in e-mail split Jews and Blacks” in the April 12 LA Times? The statement reputed to have been made there, that some Jews in the entertainment industry exploited and profited from Black performers, is probably true. It is also true that Jewish union leaders, lawyers and agents in the entertainment industry have fought for better wages and working conditions for Blacks and others in the industry. Many Jews played crucial roles in the struggle for civil rights, and undoubtably there were some on the other side as well. We can go back farther to trade accusations. Were there Jews who owned slaves and were involved in the slave trade? Probably so; and yet there were also Jews fighting for abolition. Does it matter whether those on one side outnumbered those on the other?

To be honest, I must tell my son that his African ancestors were on both sides as well. How else did Africans become African-Americans? Did a few Europeans (perhaps including some Jews) march into Africa and march out with tens of millions of slaves? Actually, it was their African “brothers” who sent them into slavery. Whether it was for small reasons like personal squabbles, or large reasons like tribal warfare, it was primarily Africans who sent other Africans into slavery, just as Joseph was sold into slavery in Africa, by his own brothers!
So is the point of the Passover story that the Hebrews were the “good guys” being held in slavery by “evil” Africans? NO! Emphatically NO! And neither should the point of the current discussion be to lay blame on anyone.

The rest can be read here.

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