The 10 Modern Plagues of Inequality
Passover ends in just a few hours and my productivity is battling it out with thoughts of bread, pasta and beer. I’m seriously having all of that for dinner tonight. But before sunset rolls in I wanted to reflect a bit on Passover this year. For the first night Seder I had fourteen people over for dinner to my place and made some hefty revisions to my Haggadah the day before. That day a former co-worker of mine from my Jewish professional days posted an op-ed from the New York Times and asked for thoughts on it. The op-ed implored people to keep politics out of their Seders on the basis that it was divisive. It actually just reminded me why Passover is my favorite holiday. I like bringing modern political issues into my Haggadah including social justice and feminism. The ability to make the holiday relevant to modern issues in an accessible way is what keeps me always coming back for more every year.
Passover’s main theme is that the Jewish people must retell the story of how we were once slaves in Egypt and how we were liberated. We remember slavery in order to deepen our commitment to end all suffering and we recreate our liberation in order to reinforce our commitment to universal freedom. It is the underpinnings of the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world). In the wake of the election, I felt that it was no longer enough to simply state that we must end suffering but to be specific in what we thought some of that suffering was.
One of the standards in all Haggadah is the recitation of the plagues God cursed the Egyptians with to convince Pharaoh to free the Jews. (frogs, locusts, etc). I decided to include the Modern Plagues of Inequality following that and it proved to be a meaningful part of the Seder for my guests. I mainly used the list compiled by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism with a couple of tweeks to update it further.
For everyone hosting a Seder next year I highly encourage you to use this list or find one that would be meaningful for you and your guests:
The Modern Plagues of Inequality:
Thousands of years later, modern-day plagues of inequality should ignite contemporary responses to combat these injustices. Many of the most vulnerable members of our society are disproportionately affected; they cannot be “passed over” or ignored, especially during this important holiday. As we think about the ancient plagues, let us also keep in mind those who still live under the weight of modern plagues.
- A justice system that instills fear and divides communities does no justice at all: it must be independent and fair to foster an equal society. Just as the first plague of blood recalls violence and turmoil, we must take action to reform our criminal justice system so that it meets the highest ideals of society and overcomes the brokenness – the spilled blood – that began this cycle in the first place.
- Today, essential pathways to opportunity are blocked by a basic lack of shelter and affordable housing. Just as the plague of frogs transformed the Egyptians’ homes into unlivable conditions, homelessness and the lack of affordable housing can transform lives into the most basic struggle. Until more affordable housing units are created, too many people in need will not be able to have a home of their own.
- Today’s health care system remains out of reach to so many, millions of Americans who still do not have insurance. The plague of lice reminds us that affordable, quality healthcare is important to have to keep us healthy, and especially when unforeseen circumstances arise. We must work to advocate for those who do not have access to health care to ensure that all Americans can receive the treatments that they need.
- Sadly the plague of gun violence in America is all too familiar; guns kill 32,000 Americans each year. Gun violence runs rampant in our communities, as did the wild animals in the fourth plague, but we have the power to end this scourge ourselves. We are commanded to take necessary measures to ensure the sanctity of human life and safety of our communities.
- Hungry kids are not a distant tragedy; they are in every community. Our tradition is explicit in commanding that we feed the hungry, and we must work to make that a reality. The plague of cattle disease reminds us how important it is to ensure that all people have the resources and support needed to live healthily.
- Malaria—spread through the single bite of a mosquito—keeps countries poor, costing the African continent approximately $12 billion a year in lost productivity and using up to 40 percent of all public health care resources. Just as malaria plagues us today, did boils plague the Egyptians when this sudden health crisis impaired their lives and livelihood.
- We must all take action to adapt to and to mitigate the effects of climate change, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that climate change most significantly impacts low income communities and people of color. The climate disruption of the plague of hail is a reminder that the onus is on each of us to take action to prevent climate change and its devastating impact.
- Our tradition speaks strongly to valuing workers’ essential dignity as well as maintaining healthy families. Just as the locusts disrupted work and resources for the Egyptians, so does the lack of paid sick days disrupt the lives of families and workplaces across the United States. Without a national minimum standard, workers face agonizing choices between health and subsistence.
- Education is the key to opportunity and prosperity; and the fewer the educational resources, the more challenging for those students to advance in society. The plague of darkness reminds us to pursue a bright future for all our children through robust public education. We cannot keep some members of our community on the margins by denying them educational opportunities.
- Police killings of unarmed people of color evoke the plague of the death of the firstborn. So many people’s children have been killed unjustly and without consequence at the hands of law-enforcement. When racism is underlying law enforcement and a portion of our society does not trust fundamental institutions to protect them, the result is less safety and protection for everyone.
We cannot let these injustices of inequality continue. On Passover, we commit to structural change so that these issues will no longer be plaguing millions at home and around the globe. As we celebrate our redemption from the land of Egypt, and of the plagues that played a role in that redemption, we cannot lose sight of the plagues that still exist today. If we can overcome these plagues, so many more people will be able to revel in the liberation and redemption that the Jewish people celebrates on Passover.