Idol Chatter

Every year, Jews celebrate Passover, the Festival of Freedom, often using the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the holiday’s themes: oppression, freedom, and liberation. When I was growing up, our synagogues and schools urged us to remember the refuseniks, Jews who had been denied exit visas by Soviet authorities. In more recent years, one of the causes remembered in this context has been the genocide in Darfur, as well as oppression worldwide.
This year, with Tibetan oppression in the news, an independent group of American and British Jews and progressive Jewish organizations are uniting to bring awareness of the situation to Seder tables everywhere. Mobilizing through a website, the project they’ve named An Unlit Candle is designed to “support self-determination, freedom, and human rights for Tibetans; the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their views heard; and the responsibility of all of us, particularly Jews, to support the Tibetans’ struggle for freedom at this crucial time.”

Questioning the objects on the Seder table–and specifically on the Seder plate– is an integral part of the Seder, which through the book known as the Haggadah (which literally means “telling”) tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt’s oppression to freedom as a people. An Unlit Candle’s charge is that people place an unlit candle on their Seder tables, so as to prompt questions as to its significance:

When your loved ones ask about the unlit candle on the Seder table, talk with them about the Tibetans’ struggle for freedom. Demand that the Chinese government meet with the Dalai Lama, who has condemned all acts of violence, who asks only for autonomy for his people, and who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts. Demand that the Chinese regime immediately lift restrictions on Tibetan religious and political expression. And ask our leaders not to attend the Olympics’ opening ceremony, and our athletes to display symbols of solidarity with Tibet.

The project has a Facebook group, and their website features a petition that can be signed by visitors.
An Unlit Candle was conceived by a triumvirate of passionate Jewish writers and activists: Jay Michaelson, founding editor of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, a columnist for The Forward, and a visiting professor at Boston University Law School, as well as a founder of the Tibet Oral History Project; Rodger Kamenetz, the author of The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India, a longtime advocate on behalf of Tibet, and the creator of the 1997 Tibet Seder; and Dan Sieradski, a well-known blogger and online activist. A full list of co-sponsoring organizations is here.

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