Each spring, Jews around the world remember the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus and elaborated in the Haggadah. The ancient liberation is not just a Jewish story, but the Jewish story––central to the Jewish vision of human history not as a mere chronology of events, but ethics in time, a pursuit of justice and repair unfolding over generations and centuries. As the Haggadah says, it is not enough simply to retell the story. You must identify with it, project yourself into it, personalize it: "In each generation, each person is obligated to to see himself or herself as though he or she were personally among those liberated from Egypt." This year I celebrated the second night of the holiday in the suburbs of Philadelphia with the family of my friend Laurence Salzmann, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from eastern Europe a century ago, much as my own family did, and the families of most American Jews. But even a not-so-distant Jewish familial connection to oppression, not to mention the collective memory of the Holocaust, does not necessarily make it easy to project oneself into history, as the ancient rabbis enjoined. After the seder, I took a late night walk through a poor, segregated African-American neighborhood close to where I am staying in west Philadelphia, and made a discovery that brought Passover to life. Directly on the route between the Powelton Village section of west Philadelphia and the Main Line––as if a historical syzygy––is the intersection of Lancaster and Haverford Avenues. A historical marker there recounts that on August 3, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a crowd of 10,000 people at that intersection, as part of his "Freedom Now" tour to Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston––an effort to strengthen the coalition between northern and southern civil rights initiatives. "Negroes in Philadelphia live in segregated housing conditions, just like Negroes in the south," King told his audience in a newsreel of the visit now available on YouTube. "And whenever you segregate a minority, you can discriminate against that minority... the minute you segregate a man, you have the key in your hand that would open the door to discrimination," he intoned. "...I think this economic problem may be the greatest problem that the Negro faces this hour, because without the economic undergirding it is almost impossible to function as a citizen in the mainstream of American life." His words remain painfully, acutely relevant, as does the injunction of Deuteronomy 22:3: "you must not remain indifferent." The following sequence braids together photographs I made at the Salzmann seder, and later that night around King's intersection––meditating on contradiction, irreconciliation, and the still-far-off prospect of liberation.
Philadelphia, April 2015