My first marathon ever — 2003 in New York City — did not go according to plan. On the positive side, I would never have guessed that P. Diddy would be running the same marathon and at the same pace for much of it, providing an entertaining entourage to distract me from my exhaustion. On the negative side, my name, which I had taped to my tank top so the crowds could give me much-needed encouragement, quickly peeled off, and I was anonymous in the crowd. My plan had been to run that last mile to the mantra “you can do anything” or “you are power,” but instead, my legs barely moving and my husband and close friend no longer by my side, I chanted dejectedly to myself: “Never again, never again.”
I didn’t know what misery associated with a marathon really was, though, until I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place one year ago today. On this day, two young brothers set off two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon. As we waited to understand the damage, I remember thinking about the juxtaposition of the runners’ feelings of accomplishment setting in just as shrapnel began to fly. Then I received the painful — even if relieving — news that my first cousin had been right at the finish line with her husband and baby (born a year ago exactly on that marathon Monday) and had escaped the violence only because the baby needed her nap. We eventually learned that three people were dead, hundreds were injured, and the two suspected perpetrators were associated with radical Islam. I felt disgust and horror.
Moments such as this challenge each of us to live up to the “better angels of our nature,” as President Abraham Lincoln put it. As has been borne out by various terrorist attacks around the globe, terrorism breeds fear — its intended consequence. Too often this fear becomes fear of a religious group. We, as Jews, know intimately the perils of a society surrendering to this type of fear.
In fact, the tradition of Passover, which starts today, teaches us to re-tell our own related story of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago. The story of the journey out of Egypt begins early in the book of Exodus. The first chapter of Exodus recounts that the Israelites grew in number and “the Egyptians came to fear the Israelites” (Exodus 1:12). Fear bred a culture of mistrust, and ultimately led to the enslavement of the Israelites.
During our ritual celebration of Passover, the Seder, we combine charoset, a sweet mixture of fruit and nuts, with maror, bitter herbs. This mixture of sweetness and bitterness is meant to remind us that despite our current freedom, we can never forget our history of oppression. This year, let us add to our Seders the reminder that this bitterness also represents the fear that drove our bondage.
Interestingly, in our retelling of the Exodus, we refer to the land of Egypt as Mitzrayim, which translates literally to “narrow place.” Each of us is supposed to leave the “narrow places” of our lives. “Narrow places” include fear-based stereotyping of religious groups, even in the face of tragedy.
The bombings at the Boston Marathon were intended to sow fear that would divide us. Instead, Boston responded with strength and unity. Today, let us remember the solemn events at the Boston Marathon, pray for all those affected by the bombings and resolve to fulfill the highest callings of our respective faiths by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, and denouncing fear and hatred wherever we see it.
Rachel Laser is the RAC's Deputy Director. Ms. Laser has a diverse background in policy advocacy, coalition building, message development, and political strategy. She served as Senior Vice President at Hattaway Communications and as Director of the Culture Program at Third Way, a Washington, D.C., progressive think tank specializing in understanding and reaching moderates. At Third Way, she launched the Come Let Us Reason Together Initiative, which mobilized evangelical Christians and progressive activists to work together on divisive social issues. Rachel enjoys spending time with her husband and three children and serving as a mentor to young women who share her professional interests.
This post was published in partnership with Shoulder to Shoulder.
Image: Memorial at the finish line of the Boston Marathon after the bombing, RobinJP / Flickr.com