On Monday, April 8 at the Texas Hillel Jewish community center, the Latino-Jewish Student Coalition held their second annual Latino-Jewish Seder — a Passover Seder is when Jews tell each other the story of Jewish bondage and deliverence from Egypt. The Latino-Jewish Student Coalition used the occasion as an opportunity to talk about the current immigration debate. Monday was also Holocaust Memorial Day, where Jewish communities across the world remembered the most documented genocide in history.
The organizer of the event, Tracy Frydberg, said that the event was an attempt to “draw a comparison” between the Seder and modern day oppression of our neighbors. She says that just as there are examples of non-Jews who hid Jews during the Holocaust, the Jewish community must be present and ready to stand with others facing dehumanizing circumstances. “We are taught to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and we should emphasize freedom, equality and opportunity,” Frydberg said.
The event did just that, presenting the testimonies struggled and dehumanization: from childhood memories of hiding for fear of immigration officials, to separating of families, to impending deportation — despite a university degree and job offers — following a failed asylum request.
The Latino-Jewish Seder accomplished its goals, but on a night when people around the world are reflecting on the Holocaust, those invoking comparisons to the Holocaust must tread carefully. While the Holocaust is the standard for how societies remember and relate to atrocities, some writers, such as Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post, think that the Holocaust should be off-limits as it is unique in human history.
Alejandra Spector, an activist for Mexicanos en Exilio, a group that advocates on behalf of victims of the drug war, talked about her mixed Jewish-Mexican heritage and how she thought her education gave her a responsibility to speak out. She said that she grew up with stories of how the Jewish community was ignored and turned away from the United States during the Holocaust, and she now sees a similar situation as undocumented workers are treated like criminals.
Bringing awareness to the violence, she said, causes a reaction that “this cannot be happening.” I talked to her after the meeting, and although she believes that her comparison of the current situation to the Holocaust might have been too strong, she contended, “In our family … we believe our Jewish past will save our Mexican future.”
When asked about the trickiness of comparisons, she says that it is not about comparisons, but about realizing that “a human tragedy is a human tragedy, in Auschwitz or Guadalupe.”
Regarding awareness of the violence, she says progress is being made. Although she is skeptical about its implementation, she points to the passage of the General Victims Law in Mexico. The law allows monetary reparations to drug war victims and puts the “search for disappeared persons” as a priority of the state. But the question still remains: Is it a desecration to compare general violence to the Holocaust? What is the line between constructing a common identity and hijacking and diminishing the Holocaust?
The Executive Director of the Hillel and campus Rabbi David Komerofsky attended the event. He says that we need a balanced approach when we discuss the Holocaust. “The Holocaust is incomparable in planning and magnitude, there were 6 million Jews systematically exterminated. However, there were also as many non-Jews that for various reasons also perished … recognizing this [the diversity of victims], far from diminishing the Holocaust, memorializes the victims.” When asked about the relationship to the Seder, Komerofsky responded, “I feel a responsibility as a Jewish person to use my freedom to free other people.” As for the dark connections between Jewish persecution, Passover and the current immigration debate, Komerofsky hopes that common experience will liven the debate, not diminish it: “If the Exodus becomes a part of our memory, it becomes enshrined … we tell stories. Stories that are always happy do not have any meaning.”
Historically persecuted groups should not fear to use their stories to identify with those oppressed today. The word “genocide,” however, is used carelessly, and a horror on the level of the Holocaust cannot be easily invoked. But one phrase that Rabbi Komerofsky used today is especially apt to solve the dilemma of respect versus solidarity: “We often say ‘never again.’ We want ‘never again’ to mean not just ‘never again’ for Jews, but ‘never again’ for everyone.”
Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.