BLACK AND WHITE PASSOVER NIGHT
By: Suri Davis
In 1978 a joint session of Congress decided that each year on the anniversary of the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe there will be Education and Sharing Day. Today is the Rebbe’s birthday. Today we lost a vital person in American History, Linda Brown. There are no coincidences, there is a deep connection between all three.
Linda Brown was the girl in 1954 who sued her Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas. She wanted an education on par with white students. The law of the land for a century had been based on Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case which stated the famous segregation doctrine of “separate but equal,” that public facilities could remain segregated for white and black people, as long as the facilities were equal. It was decided by the United States Supreme Court. But, of course, separate was never really equal.
Brown’s case set in motion the idea that no matter how we differ, we are equal. The Civil Rights movement. First integration of race, then in 1975, integration of the disabled, the closing of Willowbrook, and the notion that we are all one people.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a man ahead of his time. Give me your remotest Jew in the remotest part of the world, I will find him and bring him close. No matter what he looks like, how he is dressed, what language he speaks, on land, air, sea, in jail, in the White House, on a park bench, on a surfboard on Venice Beach, you are a Jew, you are our brethren.
That is the key to education, the feeling of the disenfranchised that they belong. That their soul is special. Traditionally, we discuss the four types of sons, the smart one, the evil one, the simple one and the one who does not know how to ask. We are to accommodate their mode of learning so that they can understand that we were slaves in Egypt for 210 years and G-d redeemed us. But the Rebbe adds another son, the son who doesn’t even come to the table, we have to search him out and make him feel welcome at our table.
We lost three great founders and pillars of our community this year, Rabbi Binyamin Kaminetzky, Rabbi Gilbert Klapperman and Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz. They built bridges. Rabbi Kaminetzky talked to every person, kippah or no kippah, sheitl or no sheitl, he never looked at the external, but you can see his eyes with x-ray vision looking deeply into your soul.
Rabbi Klapperman, was the founder of Hillel, a school open to all Jews, with the goal of bringing the joy of Judaism to the unaffiliated in the community. He welcomed all into his shul, Beth Sholom with his graciousness and joie de vivre.
Rabbi Pelcovitz was eulogized with reference to his wearing sport jackets. Rabbi Pelcovitz spoke about the multi-colored past of the community that was quickly turning monotone. He talked to me about those who are going into chinuch are these montone Rebbes and how Rabbis these days are in a race to out-machmir each other. The beautiful rainbow of inclusion is being squeezed out of this community, leaving the disenfranchised to feel even more disenfranchised.
There are stories going around that are not substantiated about the Orthodox forcing non-Orthodox stores to close on Shabbos. I will tell you my experiences over the last few years. I was asked to give a shiur on Yehoshua for a woman’s group, a few weeks later, I was called by a local Rabbi and was asked to step down from the lecture series as a couple of women complained that I don’t cover my hair full time. I asked my friend, Esther Wein, to take over the shiur and I bowed out.
I went to a yeshiva in Woodmere to daven one Shabbos. The Mashgiach’s wife, who didn’t know me, approached me to inform me that in the future, if I want to daven there, I should wear stockings or boots.
And most recently, I asked to join the all male board of a local mikveh for the purpose of outreach in the community for those who were never introduced to the beauty of the mitzvah. The reply was, sorry you don’t wear a sheitl.
Black and white or multi-colored. We ask those around us who are not religious to accommodate us, but then when the orthodox become the majority, do we accommodate them? We are the majority, watch us roar.
It is a mad cycle. We separate ourselves from each other, find ways to feel exclusive. When we are not united we are weakened, and then as we say in V’hi Sheamdah/The promise to our forefathers, comes to pass that in every generation a common enemy rises up against us, to destroy us, but G-d saves us from their hand, but only when we unite against the enemy.
The Rebbe and Linda Brown fought for inclusion. They fought for education as the source of growth. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform. Sports jacket, bekeshe, bell bottoms, blue shirts, white shirts, berets, model coats, Karl Lagerfeld. French, Asian, African, American, Belgian…Black and white need to unite these Passover nights.
Chag Kasher V’sameach.