Let's start with the primary theme of the Passover holiday: the escape from bondage. It has been exactly 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, and 65 years since the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 4 of which bans slavery in all its forms.(1) Yet, the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that nearly 21 million people are subject to slavery or forced labor today, including 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.(2) Nearly a quarter of those held in slavery today, or 4.5 million people, are victims of forced sexual exploitation....
In its broadest sense, though Passover is also about more than just escape from bondage; it is about freedom, in all its many forms. Certainly, this includes the political freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as freedom of religion (Article 18), freedom of speech (Article 19), and the right to vote (Article 21), basic rights for which millions of people across the world continue to fight and die, including, most recently, in modern-day Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, among many other countries.Levine speaks out against, among other things, human trafficking, world hunger, religious oppression, and anti-gay bigotry. So what was the reception he got at the Huffington Post?
And this very week, the right to marriage, a freedom enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will also be on trial at the U.S. Supreme Court, as the nine justices consider whether the United States should join over a dozen other national governments from all four corners of the globe (including Argentina, Canada, Norway and South Africa), in recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry.(5)
And across the world today, there is certainly a lot of want and a lot of fear. There is want of food (the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 850 million people, or 15.5 percent of the world's population, are undernourished), and want of toilets (2.5 billion people, one-third of the human population, lack access to adequate sanitation facilities).(6) Yet, there has also been tremendous progress in expanding the rights to food, health, and education enshrined in Articles 25 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.(7) In the past two decades, the proportion of people worldwide living in extreme poverty, the proportion without access to clean water, the proportion of children out of school, and the number of children dying before their fifth birthday have all fallen by almost half.(8) We still have much farther to go, however, on achieving freedom from fear. More than 42 million people worldwide remain displaced by armed conflict and violence, with the numbers holding steady for much of the last decade.(9)
If you will be celebrating Passover this year, consider spending a few minutes during your seder telling a modern-day story of the struggle to free people from slavery, or oppression, or hunger, or poverty. And even if you are not Jewish, consider incorporating these stories into your own family and community celebrations -- from Easter to Eid to your own national independence day, there are a host of occasions where it could be both appropriate and right to share a freedom story. Luckily, as difficult as these topics can be to discuss, many of them appear to be having relatively happy endings. While we are still a long way from reaching the Promised Land (with even the Promised Land still a long way from being free of want and fear), continuing to tell these stories is one of the best ways to ensure that we continue marching, as a planet, in the right direction.
There was ONE comment, and that one comment was, of course, attacking Levine for not writing exclusively about the most victimized people on Earth, even though the article had nothing to do with Israel:
I guess the millions of people dying of hunger and/or enslaved need to take a backseat to the Palestinians. There really is no end to their entitlement.