This week, President Barack Obama will sit down with his family, as well as Jewish friends and staff members, at an interfaith Seder to share in the celebration of Passover. Passover is a week about freedom that includes a re-telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We make it personal and relevant each year -- a story about casting off the shackles that bind us, and starting anew. Sometimes, those shackles are physical, and sometimes metaphorical, but they are always "real."
Passover's meaning is deeply personal. Each year, depending on the circumstances of my life, I find it resonates specifically just for me. Like the tradition of hiding the afikomen for little children, our personal lesson is sometimes easy to find. Sometimes, however, we have to dig much deeper.
The current events of the day may provide this year's lesson for my life. I look around and see tea-party activists spitting on elected officials, members of Congress with heels dug-in to sabotage progress, and living American legends like Congressman John Lewis verbally attacked with racial slurs. I hear cynical media personalities attacking respected Democratic leaders from the far left, in order to improve their ratings and sell soap, rarely with a concern for the overall impact on elections. I grieve for the civility of our nation.
In my own state of Colorado, I see our freshman Democratic Senator being personally attacked by the campaign of his primary opponent, also a Democrat, and I grieve for the unity of my party. Neighbors against neighbors, friends against friends, leaders against leaders -- conflict is timeless. Are answers as well? This week, I turn to my liberal faith for inspiration to figure it out.
Like many progressive activists around the country, during 2008 I led a team of people to register voters and "get out the vote" (GOTV). One of the things we heard consistently from new and previously sporadic voters was something like, "I don't vote, because I don't like politics. I don't like politics because I don't like politicians -- all they do is trash each other on television. I don't want any part of it. Barack Obama is different. He is the first person who knows how to behave himself."
If we dig a little deeper than the superficial assumptions we made as progressives about "Hope" and "Change," there are lessons to learn from the 2008 Obama movement. New and sporadic voters came out to vote for Obama because they recognized a "transformational leader" in him, not just another politician promising some kind of policy change. They saw in Barack Obama someone who promised to change the culture of politics. They saw a man who is always "looking forward," the literal meaning of the word "progressive".
True leaders do not personally attack their opponents, whether it is during a campaign, during a Congressional hearing, or on Meet The Press -- they focus on their convictions, and persuade others to do the same. True leaders do not invest in, and are not distracted by, gossip, innuendo, rumors, personal attacks, character assassinations, and previous resentments. True leaders look forward, using integrity and diplomacy, compromise and self-discipline. True leaders are statesmen first.
I am proud to be a resident of Colorado, where the entire Democratic Congressional delegation has behaved in a manner similar to the precedence set by our transformational President, Barack Obama. Despite personal attacks and mud-slinging, and with an understanding it may cost them their next elections, they have stuck to their convictions and continue to show leadership on issues that effect ordinary people. I hope others will follow - not just to win the 2010 election, but as Mahatma Ghandi once said, to "Be the Change you wish to see in the world."
Although I sometimes fail in my ability to emulate my President, he remains my personal hero. Perhaps this year's Passover message is to throw off the shackles of "politics as usual" and push for transformational change, not just policy change. We must say "Dayenu! Enough!", the battle-cry of Jews around the world on Passover. Every day is a new day to work toward this goal -- together. Will you join me?
Chag Sameach Pesach. Happy Festival of Passover.
For a free downloadable Progressive, Interfaith Passover Seder by this author, go to http://www.caringcorner.net/OrangesandOlivesHaggadahComplete-4-15-05.pdf.
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