The 10 Modern Plagues
Written By: Madeline Driban, JFS Communications Specialist
Every year, at the Passover Seder, we retell the Exodus story, asking thought-provoking questions and completing symbolic rituals, including a recitation of the ten plagues. While we live in a different world now, we are reminded that, even after our liberation from slavery, there are still many challenges plaguing modern society; our journey to redemption is ongoing, demanding work of our hearts, hands, and minds.
While we celebrate our liberation from bondage in Egypt, many people are still the targets of discrimination and hatred today. Fear of “the other” produces and reinforces racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-semitism, homophobia and transphobia. As quintessential victims of discrimination and prejudice, on Passover, the Jewish people affirm our identity as the once oppressed; we refuse to stand idly by amid discrimination and hatred which still plagues communities across our country and around the world.
2: INEQUALITY & INEQUITY
Access to affordable housing, quality physical and mental health care, nutritious food, and quality education is far from equal and the disparity between the privileged and the poor is growing. The Torah’s social ethics point to many causes of inequality; whether episodic, such as illness or natural disasters, or systemic, such as discrimination or legal favoritism, Jewish values inspire us to deepen our empathy, resist greed, and pursue visionary change through personal or social action.
3: STIGMA of MENTAL ILLNESS
One in five Americans experiences mental illness in a given year; even more alarming, according to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, and minority communities are the least likely to search for or have access to mental health resources. Social stigma surrounding mental illness is a widespread plague; people have suffered from discrimination and shaming, but our society is increasingly equipped with knowledge and resources to eliminate this stigma. Reach out to your loved ones, ask for help if you need it and offer your support in return – no one should be left to wander their deserts alone.
According to the national Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, an estimated 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness each year. In Delaware, on any given night, 1,000 people are sleeping on streets, in cars, or at emergency shelters; one of every four of them is a minor. Passover is a story of a wandering people on a journey to find their homeland; as we gather for the Seder and meal in our homes, let us not forget those who still do not have this comfort.
5: REFUGEE REJECTION
We are living through the worst refugee crisis since the Holocaust. Every Passover we remember, “once we were foreigners in the land of Egypt, and now we are free.” Generations later, this liberation teaches us to love the stranger as ourselves. With the memory of generations of our own ancestors living in fear or fleeing their homes, we must commit to opening our hearts and doors to those seeking safety and comfort…because our people were refugees too.
About 49 million Americans experience food insecurity. While resources exist for low-income families, many still struggle with barriers to access these assistance programs. As part of the Passover Seder, we declare, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!” Let these not be empty words, but a heartfelt invitation and plea to end hunger and food insecurity.
7: ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION
Forgetful of its gifts, humans actively and passively destroy the environment through pollution, wastefulness, deforestation, and widespread apathy toward improving our behaviors and policies. One of the strongest tenets of Judaism is tikkun olam, repairing the world, and with small actions, we can achieve just that; instead of weighing down the seas with trash, let’s eliminate their burden so they may part for us, providing a path to a cleaner future.
Information is moving faster, louder, and brighter than ever before; entertainment, social media, and the barrage of meaningless information beg for our attention. Overwhelmed by it all, people develop a selective attention, paying mind only to matters close to them and distancing themselves from the world around them. Distracted, we are losing the ability to connect in meaningful ways; these days, personal connection is a double-tap on a screen rather than a handshake or pat on the back. As we take a holiday break from the motions of day-to-day life, let us take stock in all we have overlooked and express gratitude for the people, memories, and traditions that surround us.
9: SILENCE AMID VIOLENCE
As a society, we do not adequately address violence – including rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse – even though incidents happen and reports are made every day. Who is speaking up about the injustices that affect us, our friends, our communities? In ancient Egypt, Moses knew better; if he had not advocated against the injustices he witnessed against the Jews, they probably would never have fled, and the Jewish people and our communities around the world would not be what they are today. Remembering his courage and demand for justice, may we remember to be better.
When faced with these modern plagues, how often do we doubt or question our own ability to make a difference? How often do we feel paralyzed because we do not know how to bring about the desired change? We cannot stand idly by waiting for deliverance. Together, we can find our own redemption and make our visions of stronger and inclusive communities, a healthier and better world, a reality.