“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” — Exodus 23:9
After the election, I have an absolute need to understand what I didn’t know, that I clearly didn’t know about “the stranger,” our neighbors in the red zone. I’ve been labeled a pathological optimist, but I am sure these 61.5 million Americans are not racists or haters. But what don’t we know about “the stranger” down the street?
In times like these, I turn to the great wisdom in our religious traditions. They anchor how we show gratitude, connect, empathize and treat the stranger. Every Jewish kid who attends a Passover seder learns her ancestors were slaves in Egypt. We were oppressed for more than 400 years, just as so many people today have been oppressed for many generations. The Exodus narrative teaches the importance of optimism, gratitude, how to embrace challenges, take action, ask questions, responsibility for each other and the meaning of freedom.
As parents, we are our children’s first and most important teachers. Do we need guidance from traditional religion in this less “church-going” town to help with our obligation to guide their strong moral compasses (“A rabbi, an imam, a priest and a Buddhist walk into an interview”)? The wisdom shared by this beautiful cross section of our religious community may inspire us to “love thy neighbor” and name a few New Year’s resolutions.
Learning about our neighbors and understanding the stranger, near or far, is essential to peace. Just 33 miles south of SeaTac, where so many of us fly off during these holidays to visit family or hop out for a sunny vacation, live thousands of military families. They sacrifice their lives for our freedom, and face inconceivable challenges. To hear their stories (“Military moms, duty-driven dads”) is to honor them.
Freedom, to many, means being able to do what you want, when you want. I fought it for a long time, but today, I am grateful for being raised, and for raising my three children, within a religious tradition and finding our way. For us, freedom is the ability to create a meaningful life with authentic values, living a life of constant growth and striving to live up to our potential.
We’ll never get there but we’ll keep trying.
May your holiday season be filled with joy, peace, health and love!