From COVID to Liberation

Photo by JWaye Covington on Unsplash

Rabbi Sandra Lawson received ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 2018. She holds a Master’s degree in Sociology with a focus on environmental justice and race, is an Army veteran, and an Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.


On the second night of Passover, my wife Susan and I had a Passover Seder with a dear friend and members of her immediate family. This year celebrating Passover in person is extraordinary because many of us have been isolated for over a year. The Seder, once again, reminded me that the Torah, and particularly the book of Exodus, is a fascinating story of an enslaved people's struggle for freedom. During the Seder, we find ourselves transported back in time to our enslavement while reflecting on where we are in our present lives. We retell the suffering of our people and how we moved from enslavement to freedom.

In the Passover narrative, the Israelites gain their freedom because God sides with the Israelites who cry out to God. God hears their cry and leads them out of bondage, then to freedom, and finally to redemption. As we move through the plagues of the Seder, one can't help but focus on how we are living through an actual modern plague. During our dinner conversation, I started to think about our society's freedom from COVID. In my mind, COVID represents Mitzrayim, the narrow place, our place of enslavement, the place of trauma and pain. As more of us are vaccinated and we move toward freedom, we find ourselves at the edge of the sea thinking about our past, our pain, our restrictions, grief, and loss. We have survived and we have come this far to find ourselves at the edge of the sea. We know the way forward is hard, but we can't go back to the narrow place, to the way things were before COVID. This pandemic has shown more of us the inequities in our society, and we have seen that the poor and marginalized have suffered the most during this pandemic. Racism has played out on our screens for the world to see, showing many of us that racism has never gone away.

It's time for us to do some internal accounting, opening our hearts and reflecting on our souls; in Hebrew, we call this heshbon hanefesh. It's time for us to decide who we want to be as a society. We must understand systems of oppression, inequality, and inequity so that we all can truly be free. We must do this if we are ever to reach liberation. 

All of this made me think about my time studying liberation theologies. Liberation theologies are theologies of freedom that respond to some form of oppression: poverty, social class, the oppression of people of color, the oppression of women, and so on. It's also important to know that liberation theologies are focused on the future and what can be done by individuals to create a better world, and what we can do to help those disenfranchised in our society. The Passover story is a liberation theology, and like all liberation theologies, God sides with the oppressed and marginalized over the oppressors. We live in a world where people suffer. We have a responsibility to try and fight for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.

As Jews, if we are to celebrate our own liberation from slavery without working to empower and better the lives of those who suffer, we are failing to live up to our responsibilities as Jews. Passover should remind us that we are obligated to not only celebrate our liberation, but also to invite others to join with us in this celebration. Remembering our collective history as enslaved people should inform our actions today; we must strive for the liberation of all in our society, especially those marginalized, so that those who are suffering may know justice and freedom. 

Which brings me to the season of counting the Omer. What is an Omer? The Omer is a measure of barley or wheat. The Omer is also the name for the seven weeks between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. We celebrate our freedom from bondage on Passover; and on Shavuot, we celebrate receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai as free people.

Jewish mystical tradition connected counting the Omer with spiritual practices of refining one's soul so we will be ready to receive revelation, the Torah at Sinai. Many have adopted this practice of counting each day as a way to check in with ourselves. Our counting encourages us to see the seven-weeks as a pilgrimage. I see this journey as an opportunity to move us towards liberation so we will be ready to receive revelation and be the people God intended for us to be.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.