Letter to the Editor: Passover article criticism

To the Editor:

This has been a week of commemoration and celebration for the Jewish community, as Passover encourages us to contemplate the themes of oppression and freedom. The Williams College Jewish Association (WCJA) Board was disappointed to read the article in the Record’s Features section last week, “Eph offers Passover survival guide.” Jewish students at Williams come from a wide variety of circumstances. The satire that one person perceives as benign does not sit comfortably with all of us. We realize that the author of this article is a member of our Jewish community and that many Record staff members are Jewish. Nevertheless, we ask the Record to re-examine the impact of the article, both in the context of Williams College and in terms of the global Jewish community, which continues to struggle against anti-Semitism.

We recognize the comedic intent of the piece. Humor can enrich our understanding of our own practices and is an important element of Jewish culture. However, given the long history of unintentional and malicious misrepresentation of Judaism, it is important to report with particular care. This article was published in the Features section, where readers expect accurate reporting, and it stood as the Record’s sole representation of Passover. The piece called the tyrannical Pharaoh “an incorrigible curmudgeon,” treated the story of the 10 plagues with a flippancy that undermines the Jewish tradition to mourn the loss of Egyptian life and asserted that we celebrate Passover “in honor of this debatably factual event (you can’t prove it didn’t happen!),” as if a question of factuality negates any value of the text. This language both trivializes our traditions and calls our practices laughable.

We also object to the use of WCJA’s photo, which was used without our permission to accompany this satirical article. For many of us in WCJA, Passover has deep moral and religious meaning and carries a message that shapes our quest for social justice. We were dismayed that our photograph was taken out of context and used to support a misrepresentation of our religious celebration. The views of the author do not represent the attitudes of WCJA.

We recognize this article as one example in a series of failures to accurately represent minority students and marginalized voices. Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16 and Cinnamon Williams ’16 wrote in their poignant letter to the Williams community, “[The Record’s] features and perspectives consistently fail to represent or consider the perspectives of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, international students, students living in poverty, or students committed to the eradication of oppression in any and all forms.” In the same issue that contained the satire of Passover, the Record printed a front-page image of our Muslim Chaplain Bilal Ansari without covering the purpose of his protest in any substantive way. Chaplain Ansari has expressed deep sorrow at these lapses in judgment. With his support, as well as the support of the Minority Coalition and the entire Chaplain’s Office, we call on the Record not only to immediately remove WCJA’s picture from the article in question, but also to work to expose injustice rather than to perpetuate it. We reiterate our support for those working to create inclusive forums for Williams students.

Truly,

The Williams College Jewish

Association Board

  • The Wicked Child

    The “Jewish tradition to mourn the loss of Egyptian life” is spilling a thimbleful of wine so that we get imperceptibly less drunk in order to show how sorry we are about a genocide which we celebrate elsewhere in the Seder with raucous singing:

    “If He had smitten their first-born
    and had not given us their wealth
    — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!”

    Man, I were an innocent Egyptian baby being slaughtered because a supposedly omnipotent God didn’t want to just teleport the Israelites out of the country, I’d call the tradition of spilling wine a little more than just “laughable” (and maybe even a little “flippant”).

    Passover is my favorite holiday, and the Seder is one of the most reliable sources of happiness in my life. The songs, the wine, the food, the grandparents…..it’s among the best things that our rich tradition has to offer. But when I read something about how Passover “carries a message that shapes our quest for social justice,” I start to wonder if the author is missing the subtle distinction between social justice and murdering thousands of children for no reason.

    • Charoset

      Boom; roasted.