Modern-Day Plagues of Injustice and Inequality

April 1, 2022Shayna Han, Israel Harris, Lillie Heyman, Rachel Klein, and Jacob Greenblatt

On Passover, we recount the Ten Plagues that were put upon the Egyptian people. While acknowledging the ancient plagues, we invite you to also incorporate into your Seder an accounting of some of the "plagues" and injustices that afflict our present-day society.

  1. Antisemitism - The Passover story begins when a new pharaoh, ignorant of history and devoid of compassion, becomes the ruler of Egypt. God sends the Ten Plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrew enslaved people go, liberating them so they could be free and worship God peacefully, on their own terms. All people deserve the right to worship or not worship in peace. Antisemitism, which is often a bellwether for other forms of hate such as white supremacy, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, is on the rise worldwide and threatens the security and well-being of not only Jews but all people. In the last year, antisemitic incidents have occurred in communities across North America, from vile graffiti defacing schools, temples, and public spaces to violent assaults of Orthodox Jews to the terrifying January 2021 hostage taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. As we fight antisemitism, we stand with marginalized communities to fight all forms of hate, partnering together to advance a more whole, just, and compassionate world.
  2. Poverty - The COVID-19 pandemic had disastrous effects on many families' abilities to make ends meet and put food on the table, exacerbating deeply rooted economic and racial injustices. Unemployment, hunger, and housing insecurity have skyrocketed during the pandemic, with families of Color facing the most severe hardships. 80 million Americans struggle with food insecurity today, double the number before COVID-19. 15 percent of rural households, nearly 25 percent of all Native American households, and 40 percent of single mother households struggle with hunger. As of January 2022, 12.5 million American children are in poverty. Canadian poverty rates have decreased overall, but decreased at a notably smaller rate for Communities of Color. While celebrating the liberation of our people with a seder, we must grapple with the economic injustices of today. We continue to advocate for policies that promote freedom and opportunity for workers and families, such as paid family leave, anti-hunger initiatives, affordable child care, and a living wage.
  3. Uyghur Human Rights Crisis - Since 2017, over one million Uyghurs have been detained by the Chinese government in so-called "re-education" camps, subjected to surveillance, infringement of their religious freedom, physical abuse, sexual violence, torture, forced labor, forced internment, forced sterilization, forced contraception, and forced abortion. Uyghur children have been taken from their families and placed in boarding schools. Silence is unacceptable: we will fight for the human rights of the Uyghurs and seek to deliver them from harm. Add your voice in support of the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act and check out our Uyghur action page for additional resources.
  4. Abortion Restrictions - Access to abortion is under attack across the U.S. In 2021, legislatures enacted a record 108 abortion restrictions across 19 states. 2022 may be even more devastating for abortion rights: more than 520 new restrictions have already been introduced in 41  states in three months as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the future of abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. These coordinated attacks disproportionately harm those already facing barriers to quality health care, such as People of Color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and low-income people. Liberation  comes when all people have full moral agency, access to quality, essential health care they need, and can make decisions that are best for their health, their lives, and their futures. and their futures.
  5. Human Trafficking - The Torah instructs in Deuteronomy 24:18: "Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I command you to do [justice]." Many people around the world are victims of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Human trafficking, either sex or labor, is the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain, using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to provide service. Human trafficking denies freedom to 25 million people, including over 5 million children, around the world. This Passover, we must grapple with the ongoing exploitation and forced labor imposed on people every day in our own communities, in our country, and abroad. To incorporate more learning about past and present slavery into your seder, check out this resource from the Passover Project.
  6. Voter Suppression - For the past two decades, American Black, Latinx, and Native American voters have had their rights stripped away. In 2020, a record number of voters turned out for the U.S. elections, but in response, many states have rolled back this progress by silencing the voices of their constituents through stricter voter ID laws, drawing partisan district lines, and shortening times for voter registration and casting ballots. As the plagues of white supremacy and systemic racism persist worldwide, we must continue to mobilize to secure and protect voting rights for all. Join the 2022 Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign, a nonpartisan effort to strengthen American democracy by encouraging everyone to participate in U.S. elections and combat voter suppression.
  7. Attacks on LGBTQ+ children - Already in 2022, there have been hundreds of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community - especially LGBTQ+ children. These include Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which prevents schools from teaching or talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott's directive to classify gender-affirming medical care as child abuse. In Canada, 64 percent of LGBTQI2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and two-spirit) students reported feeling unsafe at school, and 25-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQI2S. These hateful anti-LGTBQ+ measures will only exacerbate the existing mental health crisis among LGBTQ+ youth, who already face an elevated risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.
  8. War in Ukraine - The war in Ukraine evokes for us the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn. God sent the Angel of Death to exact suffering no family should ever experience. To assist those suffering, the World Union for Progressive Judaism launched the Ukraine Crisis Fund. Money will be spent on individuals and communities to ensure their safety and well-being. Donate to the WUPJ fund now.
  9. Climate Change - In the Passover story, God sent a violent storm of hail, lighting, and thunder: "It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation" (Exodus 9:24). Sadly, such fearsome weather is increasingly familiar to many of us today. Millions of people, especially women and children, have been displaced by climate change. Extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes, superstorms, flooding, wildfires, and droughts have killed thousands of people, destroyed people's homes and livelihoods, and exacerbated existing inequities due to environmental racism. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called a February 2022 IPCC report "an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership"; the same report stated that "Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all." We will continue to act with personal responsibility and to advocate for policies that deliver a clean, ethically sourced, green economy, stable jobs, environmental justice, a just transition, and climate change redress for all people.
  10. Health Care Inequities - The enduring legacy of enslavement and more than four hundred years of systemic racism have created a public health emergency in the United States. While COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Communities of Color, this is just one symptom of a deeper problem. Racial health disparities - including higher rates of chronic health conditions, increased incidence of infant and maternal mortality, and heightened barriers to care - pervade our entire society. We continue to urge the federal government to expand access to quality, affordable health care for all people, including by closing the Medicaid coverage gap, expanding mental health care in public schools, and addressing the Black maternal health crisis.
  11. Gun Violence - In 2020, gun violence claimed the lives of more than 45,000 people in the U.S. - the highest year than any other on record, according to the CDC. In Canada, criminal use of guns increased 81 percent from 2009 to 2019. Even as the pandemic forced lockdowns and stay at home orders, root causes of gun violence - economic inequality, lack of job and educational opportunities, and poverty - were exacerbated by the pandemic.  The water of the Nile turning to blood reminds us that every day, blood is shed all over North America: many people die or suffer physical and/or psychological injuries from gun violence. Many families and communities are overwhelmed with grief, loss, and anger and are helpless in the face of congressional inaction. Community Violence Intervention programs help fight the root causes of gun violence, and we will fight for legislation that funds such initiatives, as well as comprehensive background checks, an assault weapons ban, and safe storage of firearms.
  12. Broken Immigration System - On Passover we remember our people's history as strangers in Egypt, and pledge to retell the story of our journey to freedom. But retelling the story is not enough, we must live the lessons of the Passover story every day. The Torah commands just treatment of the ger - the stranger or immigrant  - 36 times. Passover reminds us of this obligation to welcome the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of American society. Millions more are waiting to come to the United States, fleeing danger and persecution in their home countries. We continue to fight for a just immigration system including pathways to citizenship and restoration of the asylum system.

As we celebrate our redemption from Egypt and remember the plagues that played a role in that redemption, we cannot lose sight of the plagues that still exist today and our obligation to stand with the most vulnerable members of our society every day. We must recommit to structural change and working in solidarity with all marginalized people to achieve our vision of a world overflowing with wholeness, justice, and compassion.

On April 10 from 6-7:30 pm ET, join the RAC and the Poor People's Campaign for the Freedom Shul of the Poor (pre)Passover Movement Seder, as we gather virtually to celebrate liberation and draw strength to continue the fight for justice.

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