Talking About This Revolution
As I write these words, there are five days until Passover and it has been five days since I cheered for two buses full of Jewish teens from across the Twin Cities Jewish community, youth workers, and a couple of awesome rabbis as they pulled away from the synagogue parking lot and toward the revolution.
And this revolution? It isn’t about gun violence.
Hear me out.
Have you ever walked in the desert? Have you ever climbed around dusty flora, followed a lizard you could barely make out because in its humility it blended right in with the ground, hoisted yourself up on a rock for an even better view, squinted at the sky? Once upon a time, in a desert, there was a bush not quite hidden by an outcropping of rock. When the first Egyptian overseer’s whip came down on the back of the first enslaved Israelite, the snap of the knotted end on the tight and sweaty skin caused a spark. That spark caught wind and careened through the air until a branch of that bush reached out, beckoned, “I’ll catch you” . . . and caught fire. Day in, and day out, it burned. It burned, that desert bush, through rains you might think would quench it, through winds that made it crackle, through seasons . . . and years. Many people had a sense of the burning, they could feel it in their souls, but it had little to do with them so . . . no one turned to really look at it. If anything, they turned away. And the overseers kept felling the whips, and the sweaty skin kept sending up more sparks, until all of the bushes were burning.
If you’ve ever walked in the desert in sandals, you know that the sand and the dust that coats the skin of your feet leaves them smooth and soft and raw. You know that the wind sings hollow around the rock. You know you can see heat in the air.
When Moses’s eyes counted over the sheep, maybe he saw the heat before he saw the flames. Moses, born into slavery and raised in material power. Moses, guided from Miriam’s hands to Batya’s by the only part of Creation that co-existed with God before the Beginning. Did it whisper to him as it carried him? When he saw the flames, did he remember the water from which he was drawn . . . and named?
Moses saw the bush. Moses saw the fire. Moses turned toward the burning bush, and stepped closer. God’s first words to him are, “Take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground.” After Moses saw the bush . . . saw the fire . . . and walked toward it. After. Not before. Moses’s action made the ground holy. Maybe the command was an invitation. Maybe God was saying, “Moses, take off your shoes and feel what you have done.” Bare foot to desert sand.
I’ve walked in the desert. I’ve also spent the better portion of my life walking among teenagers. Like the desert sand and dust, walking with teenagers can leave a person feeling soft and raw. Vulnerable. Open. Walking with teenagers, really walking with teenagers, it is impossible not to see all the bushes burning.
No one is more real than a teenager.
Preparing for Passover, it’s with water and fire that we make our homes kosher. It’s with flame, a candle, that we search for the last of the chametz - the physical representation of what we are leaving behind, the oppression and the narrowness. Candle, ner, spelled nun raish - neshama and ruach - two parts of our soul. After the scrubbing, the last of the chametz we sweep away with a feather, a lasting reminder from our Sages that as we do this hard spiritual work, and push ourselves, we can also remember to be gentle . . . and then we burn it. We let go of whatever it is that is preventing us from being our truest and best selves. We let go of whatever it is that would cause harm in the journey ahead of us. And we hold on tightly to our timbrels.
And, friends, we are on one hell of a journey.
As Michael Hussein Tallon pointed out, today’s teenagers have never known a time before Active Shooter Drills, Red Alert Levels, the threat of terrorism, awareness of the obvious racism of the murders of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Philando Castile, the 30,000 yearly deaths by gun violence in our country, corporations deemed to have personhood, and the rampant destruction of the only planet we have to call home. They’ve also never known a time before we were aware that the Israel we love also has a great deal of reckoning to do.
Those teenagers, though.
Those “multiracial, non-binary, non-dogmatic, digitally native, omnivorously curious” teenagers who use their privileges to amplify each other’s voices, who make themselves heard, and who hear one another.
All of the bushes are burning.
And the ground on which teenagers are marching?
That is some seriously holy ground.
According to our tradition, about 600,000 people made the Exodus from Egypt. Whether legend or history, we don’t have to wonder anymore what that might look like. Estimates are that between 600,000 - 800,000 people participated in the March for Our Lives in D.C.
Gun violence is an issue. There are a lot of issues.
The March was organized and led by teenagers with the support of adults who had the humility to do our part and follow their lead.
That is the revolution.
As we gather for our seders, we have an opportunity to bless our children - those born to us and taught by us. May we bless them for who they are, in all that they are. May we bless them in their infancy, their childhood, their adolescence, and their adulthood. And may we also offer a blessing for:
Emma Gonzalez, and her powerful silence
Alex Wind, who celebrates the youth who are making the movement
Jaclyn Corin, a class president who makes space on the stage
David Hogg, for shaking the powerful
Sam Fuentes, who holds her friends close
Sarah Chadwick, who values each life
Ryan Deitsch, who is done being afraid
Naomi Wadler, who at 11 speaks for unheard African American girls and woman
Yolanda Renee King, who insists hers be a great generation
Mya Middleton, who at 16-year-old says, “guns have long scared our children”
Edna Chavez, a sister who learned to duck bullets before she learned to read
Cameron Kasky, who welcomes everyone to this revolution
May these fabulous people, and everyone in their generation, be who they are in absolutely all that they are. May God bless them, and guard them. May God show them favor, and be gracious to them. May God show them kindness, and grant us - all of us - peace.